The Crucible at Bay Street Theatre

Arthur Miller’s seminal work The Crucible is brought to life in all of its frustrating and painful glory as part of Bay Street Theatre’s Literature Live! series this month.

Written in 1953, this fictional story about the 1692-1693 Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts is Miller’s allegory of the madness of McCarthyism—a U.S. government “witch hunt” for communists that extended from 1950 to 54.

From the opening scene until the powerful finish, the Bay Street production was engaging and well presented, if a little over the top at times. Granted, as part of Literature Live!, the production is designed to hold the attention of students.

The story begins with Reverend Samuel Parris, enthusiastically played by Ken Foreman, praying over his daughter Betty and questioning his niece Abigail Williams after discovering them dancing and engaged in other suspect activities in the woods with his slave Tituba. Rumors of witchcraft are spreading quickly.

As the metaphorical noose tightens and Abigail is questioned, she begins accusing others of witchcraft—starting with Tituba—to save herself. Seeing a way out, Betty joins in and the two girls recite a long list of alleged witches, igniting a firestorm of panic in Salem.

Soon the play’s hero John Proctor, played by Rob DiSario, arrives and it is revealed that he and Abigail, rendered well by Joanna Howard, have had an affair, though Proctor now seeks redemption and pushes off her advances. He also learns that Abigail is lying and accusing others to save herself.

During this first scene, Kate Mueth stands out with her authentic and magnetic performance as Ann Putnam, and Lisa Cory portrays the elderly and straight-talking Rebecca Nurse with humor and the right bit of swagger. Al Bundonis’ Thomas Putnam is appropriately buttoned up among his fellow players.

Scenes change with simple rearrangement of furniture on Gary Hygom’s stark but smartly designed set. A wooden floor comprises most of the stage, while lanky black tree trunks,  stumps, and fallen leaves surround it. The backdrop depicts the silhouette of a forest—tall, black trees with no limbs, stretching floor to ceiling. Fog machines enhance the creepy vibe and add another layer to the sinister whole.

At the Proctor home, we discover that John’s wife Elizabeth knows of his indiscretion and the couple is struggling to get past it. He tells her of Abigail’s lies and Elizabeth asks John to expose his former lover as a fraud. Of course, it’s no surprise that Abigail eventually accuses Elizabeth, forcing the Proctors to choose whether to save lives by admitting John’s affair, which would shame them and their marriage, but would also uncover the motivation behind Abigail’s lies.

Though The Crucible is somewhat tragic in the end, it is a pleasure to see John and Elizabeth find peace and redemption with each other as truth and dignity prevail.

Bay Street’s artistic director and the play’s director Murphy Davis cut the script down to 90 minutes without losing any of the story or context for Literature Live! The curriculum-based educational series typically presents works of literature as plays for area students to watch on field trips in conjunction with their reading, so time had to be considered.

This particular production lost days of rehearsal time due to Superstorm Sandy and the blackout that followed, but the cast endured and even rehearsed in the dark when Bay Street lost power again during the nor’easter. Bay Street is donating 10% of ticket sales to Island Harvest, which is collecting money and food to help victims of Sandy on Long Island. Bay Street is also serving as a collection point for donations.

The Crucible” plays for the public at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, November 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 & 24. Matinee performance 2 p.m., Saturday, 11/24. Bay Street Theatre, 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor. 631-725-9500, www.baystreet.org

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