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05Apr

The Crucible - H-B Woodlawn - Arlington, Virginia - April 1, 2017

Maddie Sisson

Heritage High School

 

Will you lie and be damned? Or will you tell the truth and be hanged? H-B Woodlawn posed this same conundrum to their audiences this weekend when they put on a truly mystifying production of The Crucible. Their exceptionally emotional actors, symbolic lighting, and immersive set pulled the audience in and made them question their own fates.

 

The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller, first opened in New York in 1953. Although the story is historical fiction about the Salem Witch Trials, Miller's actual subject was McCarthyism. The play is a symbol for how the country began to fill with false accusations and heated hearings. When The Crucible opened on Broadway in 1953, its reviews were largely negative and critical of the cold performance. However, it still went on the win the Tony Award for Best Play. Since then, The Crucible has been made not only a classic to perform, but to read in classrooms as well.

 

The play centers around John Proctor (Nick Kampeas) who struggled to repair his marriage with Elizabeth (Christine Wanda) after an affair with his house maid, Abigail (Caroline Alpi). Kampeas and Wanda excelled at creating a believable and endearing couple struggling to remain together while Salem slowly deteriorated around them. Kampeas' emotions added another level to his spectacular acting; he was completely believable as a broken man and desperate husband. He also had an impressive character arc that had everyone in the theater on his side. His emotions paired with those of Wanda, who broke the audience's heart by being able to cry on command, pulled their audience into the conflict with them. Kampeas' chemistry with Alpi was equally impressive. Their character's prior relationship was immediately evident in their first scene, adding extensive depth to the production. Alpi stunned the audience in her portrayal of a young woman who wrongly used the accusations of witchcraft to win back the man she loves.

 

Aside from the incredibly talented trio, The Crucible was filled with supporting and featured characters who shined regardless of their role. Reverend John Hale (Bradley Schurtz), a man struggling for the truth, quickly became an audience favorite as he attempted to balance his religious views paired with the demands of the law. Mary Warren's (Katie Rau) emotional turmoil had the audience eagerly awaiting every new twist: her decision between helping Proctor or returning to Abigail's evil clutches. Deputy Governor Danforth (Wyatt Walther) commanded every scene he was in and proved himself to be and dangerous antagonist who embodied the threat of wrongful accusations of communism and the government in the 1950s. Finally, Giles Corey (Robby Gessel) was both a grieving husband and provider of critical comic relief in some of the tensest moments.

 

Behind the remarkable cast, symbolic lighting aided in creating a hopeless and frantic mood. The costumes, based off the1950s Miller knew, were subtle, but effective in making the story more relatable to today's audience. Although the set was simple, it executed its purpose wonderfully in adding to the tension of each scene.

 

In this production of The Crucible, nothing was cast aside. The cast and crew used everything from shadows to silence to perfect their play and build tension, something they did admirably. H-B Woodlawn presented a powerful show that had the audience on the edge of its seats and subsequently devastated with the play's ending.


 

Mary Margaret Chalk

Langley High School

 

Arthur Miller wrote the Crucible in the 1950s, but the play is set during the late 1600s where a fear of witchcraft persisted in Salem. In response to the prospect of devilish powers being in the air, individuals started to face blame for summoning satanic spirits, for being witches. Refusal to produce a confession, however, meant death for the accused, but to save one's life, one must lie and accept claims of being a witch. The only way to claim innocence was to deflect blame onto another, who then deflected it onto another. This created a vicious and paradoxical cycle of spreading false blame and incriminating the truth. Analogous to the Salem witch trials was the Red Scare in the 1950's. The post-World War II atmosphere had Americans succumbing to the aggression of "McCarthyism," blaming their friends and political officials not for being witches, but rather communists. The Crucible narrowed in on the story of several teenaged girls accused of witchery and the domino-theory-like consequences of blame that ensued, proving the erosive effects of burying the truth and accepting lies.

 

Instead of a colonial backdrop, a minimalist 1950's atmosphere consumed the stage. The costumes and styles characteristic of the post WWII world were a persistent reminder of the paranoia and pain that struck America far more recently than did the witch trials.

 

Lead actors used admirable conviction in their performances. Abigail Williams (Caroline Alpi) was a catalyst in creating the chain of lies. Alpi used nuance and maturity to present her manipulative character believably. Her poised mannerisms and cunning persona were irresistible to other characters. No one could refuse her schemes to deflect blame. John Proctor (Nick Kampeas) who had an intimate relationship with Abigail, consistently displayed an unwavering spirit as he resisted others' accusations. Alpi and Kampeas had a dynamic relationship which spanned tense moments of affection to heartless instances of sabotage. Proctor's wife Elizabeth (Christine Wanda) genuinely portrayed a supportive partner. Wanda's poise, even while teary-eyed, was a contrasting force amidst younger, more naive girls accused of witchcraft. Such dedication was crucial to the show's success.

 

Supporting characters were able to further drive the plot. Mary Warren (Katie Rau) was an acute example of lying overcoming innocence. Rau masterly transitioned from honest and strong to broken when she failed in the face of accusations by blaming an innocent man. Also notable was Reverend Hale (Bradley Schurtz), who, in efforts to reveal truth, had a calm and grounding presence. Robby Gessel, who portrayed Giles Corey, expertly developed an elderly and once uplifting man. His sweetness and heart made his fate even more tragic.

 

Technical elements enhanced the effect of the story. Dim lighting created physical shadows that mirrored the murkiness of the truth, hidden amongst dark fears. Several moveable barred walls, which stood as the set, had a symbolic use too; characters positioned behind these bars appeared jailed or contained, just as they were trapped by lies.

 

HB Woodlawn recalled extreme fears that once really did consume our society. The Crucible poignantly cautioned against such paranoia and the cyclical pattern of lying that comes with it.

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