By Brianna Headsten
Arthur Miller’s infamous play about the Salem Witch Trials, “The Crucible,” is now being performed at Fremont’s Broadway West Theatre Company.
Occupying the second floor of a brick building in the Irvington District of Fremont, the Broadway West Theatre Company originally opened in 1997. Walking into the lobby, one is met with a homey feeling. All possible reservations about seeing a play are lost when you’ve been greeted and led to your seat by a friendly attendant.
The small theater, which seats roughly 80 people, leaves the audience feeling intimate and close to the stage, yet not cramped. This feeling of being in a friend’s home continues at intermission, when free cakes, desserts, teas and coffees are offered to patrons.
For those who are unfamiliar with Miller’s play, “The Crucible” is based on the events that occurred during the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts of 1692. The play focuses on John and Elizabeth Proctor, a couple dealing with accusations of both witchcraft and infidelity.
Miller originally wrote the play as a criticism of the anti-Communism crusade by Senator McCarthy and the House of Un-American Activities Committee in the United States during the 50s.
Paula Chenoweth, who directed Broadway West’s production, mentions in her director’s notes that, “I realize in these tough times, most people want to laugh and be entertained. But sometimes the most enjoyable theatrical experience can be one that stimulates your sense and lets you share in the human condition. Even though this play takes place in 1692, you will recognize passions and attitudes that exist today and probably always will.”
Many of the actors rose to the occasion, given the complex and multi-faceted nature of the characters.
One actor who did a particularly good job was Lee Vogt, who played Deputy-Governor Danforth. His clear articulation, coupled with the eerily calm delivery of his lines as the pretentious Danforth, kept the audience enraptured.
Morgan Voellger, who plays Abigail Williams, gives another strong performance as one of the female leads. Her character staunchly denies her own involvement with witchcraft while freely accusing many of the other town members of engaging in the activity. Voellger plays the oddly charismatic and delusional Williams with intense enthusiasm, and fiercely stays in character even while not delivering lines.
There were no microphones, so the audibility depended on the actors’ ability to project their voices. As a result, some of the lines the actors delivered while rushing across the stage were drowned out. For the most part, sound wasn’t an issue, since the actors were aware of, and made great use of, their limited space.
One criticism of the acting was the differences in the sense of urgency with which the various actors delivered their lines. Some spoke quietly, calmly and carefully; others spoke with urgency and haste. Considering that the subject of the play deals with the accusation, trial and possible execution of people thought to be witches, a bolder delivery of certain lines would have been better, adding impact to the words.
Another minor drawback of the play was the minimal props. With little more than a desk and chairs or a table and sink in most scenes, it was occasionally difficult to be transported into this alternate time period. In one scene set in a forest, a green-colored gel was used to tint the lighting, along with a projected image of tree limbs. Some additional props or set pieces would have enhanced the experience, but they did not crucially impact the play.
Although these historic events took place hundreds of years ago, the retelling of this popular play is engaging as well as entertaining even today. Whether you’re a theater lover, or if you are just looking for a change of pace from your average movie theater or nightclub, Broadway West’s production of “The Crucible” is worth viewing.
“The Crucible” is running from May 14 through June 12. Performances are Thursday through Sundays. For reservations and more information, please call 510-683-9218.