I remain unsure of what was in the water at the Byre Theatre on Wednesday night, but never has Arthur Miller’s comedic talents (or lack thereof) been on such display as in Mermaids’ stellar production of The Crucible. Strangely, the audience seemed to find the 1953 drama about the Salem Witch Trials a hilarious romp, with many lines of strong emotional intent sending an unintentional laugh rippling through the sold-out house. This was hardly the actors’ fault, however, as the 21-person cast had nary a weak link, with every member turning out distinct and memorable performances.
Particular praise must had handed out the Lydia Seed, who’s grounded and vulnerable portrayal of Elizabeth Proctor stuck with me long after I had left the theatre. Other standouts included Connor Norris, who lent an emotional gravitas and authoritative air to the role of Judge Danforth, Timo Marchant, whose Reverend Parris had the perfect mix of sneering condescension and pleading passion, and Alexandra Upton, giving a poignant pathos to the conflicted Mary Warren. In addition, even the smallest roles were imbued with unique idiosyncrasies and mannerisms, such as the comedically over-the-top cadence of George Watts’ Ezekiel Cheever. In a play with such distinctly period dialogue as this one, particular words and phrases can sound extremely stilted and awkward. The cast, however, navigated this potential pitfall brilliantly, with the monologues flowing in a conversational yet dramatic manner. The staging tended to be on the simpler side, which allowed the actors to fully invest in the dialogue and not be hindered by unnecessary movements. Director Grace Cowie also made the innovative choice to build and place gallows in the background of the second act, heightening the feeling of impending doom and disaster.
While the overall result was quite impressive, there were a few aspects of the production that could have been improved upon. Seb Allum as John Proctor and Cameron Chavers as Abigail Williams struggled to generate the raw sexual chemistry that is vital in making their characters’ relationship believable within the context of the play. Additionally, Allum, while suitably tender in his intimate scenes with Seed, could not match the ferocious fury of Norris in the climactic final confrontation, making his iconic “Because it is my name!” monologue seem slightly hollow, lacking the emotional weight intended. Along with this, Adam Spencer’s Reverend Hale seemed somewhat detached in some of the more the high-energy moments, undermining his moral struggle.
While the set was constructed beautifully(hats off to Natasha Mauer), the costumes more than left something to be desired. At some points, it seemed like the women were clothed in period outfits, while the men were dress in modern attire. In addition to the thematic inconsistency, many of the costumes appeared thrown together without much attention to detail. Norris’ outfit was a prime example of this, as he was clad in a navy blazer, black pants, and brown shoes and belt.
Despite these minor issues, The Crucible remains one of the most well-executed and thrillingly exciting productions of the year, and all those involved should be quite proud of the superb result of their hard work and months of labor.