On Sunday March 3rd 2012, Tokyo International Players performed The Crucible at the Ebisu Echo Theatre. The cast, led by Ed Gilmartin (also director) , Hannah Weakley, Jeremy Plant, Katie Turner, Douglas Kirkpatrick, amongst others, delivered an enticing and expressive performance of Arthur Miller’s renowned play about the Salem witch trials. The simplistic staging and costumes helped to put emphasis on the theme and symbolism of the story.
Set in Salem, Massachusetts, Miller’s piece deals with the Salem witch trials. The play started out with a forest scene, where girls from the village were dancing around the cauldron and fire while trying to cast charms. They were suddenly caught by Reverend Parris (Douglas Kirkpatrick) and one of the girls fell into a trance. The next scene took place at the Parris’s house where the reverend was questioning his niece Abigail Williams (Hannah Weakley) about the events of the previous night. Other villagers started to gather at or outside the house and rumors of witchcraft began to circulate. Reverend Hale (Jeremy Plant) was called in from Boston to examine the situation. He declared that witchcraft was indeed present in the village. Abigail then cried witchcraft on Tituba, the slave and the other girls joined in with the accusations. The third scene took place at John Proctor (Ed Gilmartin)’s house. During the scene, Proctor and his wife (Katie Turner) discussed the witch trials. Then, officials from the court came to the house to inform Elizabeth that she was one of the people being accused of witchcraft by the girls. The fourth scene also took place in the woods and featured a conversation between John and Abigail, with John threatening to bring Mary Warren (Victoria Caccavale) to court to confess to the pretending of the girls who cried witchcraft. During the fifth scene, the action takes place at the court. Mary comes in to confess. However, the other girls fear for themselves so they turn on Mary and accuse her of being with the devil. Afraid of her fate, Mary withdraws her confession and returns to the girls’ sides. John Proctor then tries to convince the court officials that Abigail only accused Elizabeth of witchcraft because she was jealous, as Proctor and Abigail had previously had an affair. The scene progresses and finally John himself is accused of witchcraft. In the sixth and final scene, Reverend Hale asks Elizabeth Proctor to try and convince John to confess so he can avoid death sentence. John is brought out of his cell and has an emotional conversation with Elizabeth. In the end, he refuses to confess in fear of blackening his name and is brought away to hang along with others who were prosecuted. Elizabeth is left on stage, an emotional wreck and the curtains draw.
The Crucible may seem like a dramatization and immortalization of a historic event, however, there are several underlying and important themes that Miller tries to convey in his piece. First of all, the play deals with human relationships. It is about a witch hunt, which by definition can mean the prosecution of another because of their differences in opinion, beliefs, appearance, etc. The play deals with the fact that humans will naturally ostracize those who are different and will seek ways to soil their image. If they do not have an explanation for other’s differences, they will make one up to satisfy their natural need of having answers to everything. It also deals with the effects of jealousy and revenge on our relationships and lives. This theme is demonstrated in the plot; Abigail had an affair with Proctor and wants to kill his wife. That is why the girls gather in the forest to dance in the first place and when they get caught, it sets off the accusations of witchcraft. The witch trials eventually lead Abigail to falsely accuse Elizabeth Proctor. We can tell that all these events as well as the unfair executions were all a result of a jealous young girl and her hunger for revenge. To accentuate the themes dealt with in the play, and to help audiences to relate to the story, TIP chose to set the story in a different time period. They set it in the early 1900s instead of the late 1600s to bring it closer in relation to the audience members. This also helped to show the viewership that the play is not simply a historic lesson but has themes that must be contemplated and that the kind of human betrayal depicted in the piece can happen to any community, at any time and at any place. TIP demonstrated
the themes dealt with in the piece by using simplistic staging, lighting and costumes to shift the focus towards the dialogue and the meaning of the lines. The morals were clearly noticeable and were presented through the powerful and symbolic dialogue and fervent, emotional expression. The themes were fairly noticeable from the start of the play, however the significance of them was especially noticeable during the last scene of the play, when Elizabeth had to watch her husband be sent off to hang for a crime he did not commit. The raw and pure emotion demonstrated by the actors at that point really made the audience realize the morals and the reality of the themes. To bring the issue to a conclusion, TIP decided to end the drama on a very uninhibited emotional note and to leave the audience reflecting on the themes. The play ended with a very strong, sad mood and the tension could be felt all the way until the very end of the final scene.
The Tokyo International Players staged The Crucible very simplistically. Stage furniture was used only when necessary and use of props was limited. The main action of the piece took place mainly at the front of the stage and often times the main speaker was usually in the centre, directing the audience’s focus towards the more important characters in the scene. When three characters were on the stage at once, they would be placed in a triangular formation, usually at centre stage or stage right (where the audience naturally focuses on). When more than three characters were on the stage, the three main ones of the scene (or part of the scene) were placed in a triangular formation at centre stage or stage right. This helped keep the audience focussed on the action and the dialogue. The stage furniture was placed strategically and helped the whole stage space to be used. The stage furniture created different levels and helped to create a more visually interesting set-up, which kept the audience even more engrossed in the play. The stage furniture, although well set-up, posed a slight problem. The larger items took more time to move, making the transitions between the scenes long. The actors did not take part in the transitions, which meant backstage crew had to step in and move the furniture, prolonging the transitions. In addition, there was no music being played during the transitions, therefore the audience could hear the noises of the objects being moved. This broke the tension that had been built up throughout the previous scene. To create smoother transitions, the cast could have helped with the displacement and placement of the stage furniture and the larger items could have been placed on wheels to make the movement more efficient. There also could have been music playing in order to prevent the loss of tension and to maintain the mood. The background used in the play was simple, yet very clever. By simply using paper and lighting, the crew was able to easily transition between different settings. The background was very diverse and could portray all the different places, from a forest, to a house, to a courtroom, etc. without any complicated transitioning. The lighting used in the play was also very simple and effective. The lighting was not very elaborated and this helped the audience focus not only on the visual aspects of the play, but rather on the dialogue and the meaning behind the lines. Minimalistic costumes, make-up and props also aided the audience to focus on the symbolism of the play.
The cast and crew of the Crucible focused on the human context and the roles and relationships in the play. Characterization was one of the most important elements of the production. To portray the raw, powerful emotions of the characters, the actors fully immersed themselves in their roles and really became their respectful characters. They never broke their focus throughout the play and used circles of attention to help them maintain their focus. Their eyes always focussed on something and if they suddenly looked in a specific direction, it was to lead the audience’s gaze to that place. At some points in the production, a multitude of characters were on the stage simultaneously. In order for the audience to differentiate them, each character had to have their own mannerisms, body language, posture, etc. For example, John Proctor stood erect and had stiff posture, except when his character became angry, when his movements became quick and aggressive. Another example is Abigail. Her movements were often times very neurotic and her posture was very proud when she was standing still. In addition, Abigail’s gaze was very precise and fixated. Next, the entire cast used effective vocals. Each character delivered their lines clearly and sustained their vocal characterizations throughout the piece. They also each had unique vocal traits that helped distinguish their characters. Some characters had harsh voices, others flexible ones and others lyrical ones, depending on their personalities. For example, Giles Corey had a deep, raspy voice. This helped the audience to understand he was an older man and it helped define his character. Furthermore, the element of movement was often used to improve characterization. Characters moved according to their emotions and physically displayed their feelings. From time to time, characters made contact with each other, showing more intimate relationships between certain ones and establishing tension between others who were almost making contact. The actors nver broke the fourth wall during the piece, however certain characters, governor Danforth, had a quality of speaking towards the audience, and making them feel like they were part of the trials, yet all while not not acknowledging their presence. By employing the elements of movement, language and human context, the characters of The Crucible were believable and credible to their status in the framework of the piece.
The interpretation of The Crucible presented by TIP offered audiences an original take on Arthur Miller’s play. They modified the time period in which the play was set, helping the audience to relate to it a little bit more. Unlike many versions of The Crucible, TIP chose to include the forest scene, showcasing a conversation between Abigail and Proctor. This helped audience members who had no previous knowledge of the plot to better understand how all the characters interrelate.The interpretation of the play was very sensitive to the theme being conveyed and the message was delivered in a serious manner. The actors delivered very believable performances and the characters’ reactions and mannerisms seemed natural. The performance was very understandable to the audience. TIP’s interpretation to fit perfectly with the very realistic style of the play.
Tokyo International Players’ production of The Crucible was clearly well-rehearsed and polished. Each stage movement and placement had been planned out and minor and infrequent struggles to remember lines did not hinder with the communication of the theme and delivery of the piece. The actors really worked on their characterization, helping them to portray believable characters and extremely realistic emotions. The gripping performance of the actors captured the targeted audience’s full attention. In addition, the material dealt with in the piece was very well suited for the targeted audience.
In conclusion, Tokyo International Players’ performance of the crucible captured audiences with their use of simplistic staging, symbolism, skillful characterization and polished performance. It was a great interpretation of Miller’s play and a great reflection on the Salem witch trials.