Critic's PickIt was a perfect storm when Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and Xavier University decided to collaborate on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. CSC’s concurrent small-cast production Of Mice and Men left strong company members including Sara Clark, Kelly Mengelkoch, Regina Pugh, Billy Chace, Michael Bath, Torie Wiggins without parts. The timing allowed fellow-member Stephen Skiles, Xavier’s director of theatre, to see his students perform with professional, working actors.
It also allowed CSC audiences to enjoy the 350-seat theatre at the Gallagher Student Center.
I don’t have enough space to pay homage to the many powerful moments in this large-cast production, a tale set in 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials and written as an allegory for McCarthyism. It remains excruciatingly timeless as too many painful themes still resonate today.
Hungerford’s always terrific scenic and lighting work has room to breathe. His spare and beautiful set plays a quiet, supporting role up until it flexes its muscles to help deliver one of the play’s most haunting stage pictures. Not aspiring to cinematic detail, Travis McElroy’s sound design delivers complex moments offstage to just the right degree.
The cast is outstanding, and for those not mentioned, there simply is not room. The Xavier students do an admirable job holding space with the pros. Maya Hayat’s Mary Warren is particularly strong, and Patrick Phillip’s Reverend Hale grows more compelling as his character loses faith. The “Abigail’s Girls” chorus in the second act is chilling, led by CSC’s spectacular Sara Clark.
Yet the most moving relationship is between Elizabeth and John Proctor (Kelly Mengelkoch and Brent Vimtrup), reflecting what we now relegate to the tabloids in a human and morally complex way. Mengelkoch’s Elizabeth is both wounded and proud, and Vimtrup’s John Proctor was a revelation to me. In short, he is my new favorite actor.
In a 1996 New Yorker article, “Why I Wrote The Crucible,” Miller said, “As with most humans, panic sleeps in one unlighted corner of my soul.” Director Phillips has put a tender light on that panic and made us question how we would bear up under the weight of hysteria and tyranny. This is good stuff on so many levels. I look forward to more CSC and XU collaboration.
THE CRUCIBLE, a joint production of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and Xavier University’s theater program, continues through Sunday, Nov. 3.