Monday, January 07, 2002

The Crucible

"It is truly sobering to realize that this play has never, in my lifetime, lost its relevance," writes director David Burmester in his program comments for Acme Theatre's production of "The Crucible," running through January 12 at the Veterans Memorial Theatre.

Arthur Miller's classic play concerns the Salem witch trials, which took place from June through September of 1692, during which time nineteen men and women were hanged at Gallows Hill near Salem. Another man was pressed to death by stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of other persons faced accusations of witchcraft and dozens more languished in jail without trials. Miller, who wrote this play in the mid-1950s, intended for his play to be a metaphor for the "red scare" of the era of Senator Joe McCarthy, in which similar "witch hunts" occurred, but targeting citizens as Communists rather than disciples of Satan.

"The Crucible" is a work which still shows the mass hysteria which can evolve and destroy the lives of innocent people, whether witches or communists or Japanese interred without any proof of guilt during World War II, or Middle Easterners in 2001, detained for looking middle eastern, and therefore suspect.

It is unfortunate that some of the dialog in Acme's production is difficult to understand. Important information is rushed and the dialect occasionally makes it difficult to follow what is being said, however it is a small complaint in an otherwise powerful production.

The story begins in the bedroom of young Betty Parris (Genevieve Moreno). Betty lies comatose while her father, the Reverend Parris (Jake Stoebel) kneels at her side praying for her recovery. In the next few minutes we discover that on the previous night, Betty had been dancing in the forest with a group of girls, including Tituba, a slave from Barbados (Lusungu Mkandawire) and Abigail Williams, the Reverend's niece (Allese Thomson). Their frolic was discovered by the Reverend and when Betty cannot be awakened the next morning, rumors begin to fly that the girls had been practicing witchcraft and that Betty is bewitched.

Alarmed neighbors, Thomas and Ann Putnam (Brian Oglesby and Jill Winternitz) approach Parris with rumors that Betty was seen flying over a barn. Their daughter is also sick and they, too, feel witchcraft is the cause.

When John Proctor, a local farmer, arrives with his wife and is left alone with Abigail, we learn of their brief affair, his remorse, and the girl's intention to continue the relationship. When Proctor makes it clear that the affair is over,


In a theatrical experiment, Acme is including in this production a scene which had been written into the original script, but which was dropped many years ago and is now rarely performed. The scene, which comes at the start of Act 2, is a brief meeting of Proctor and Abigail in the forest prior to the trial. According to director Burmester, it somewhat shifts the culpability away from Abigail because in the scene she really seems to be somewhat deranged. She is so completely caught up in what she considers her love of John and her attempts to cleanse the world of all evil ("when this world is white again what a wife I'll make you"). Burmester feels the scene gives an interesting twist to the story. Abigail's apparent mental derangement illustrates more clearly that the men of Salem have been manipulating the girls.

The new scene will run on Thursday and Saturday, and the show without the additional scene will run Friday.

Sunday, January 06, 2002

Little Shop of Horrors

"Whatever you do, don't feed the plants," sings the cast.

Good advice that anyone will be sure to heed after seeing Davis Musical Theatre's latest production of "Little Shop of Horrors," opening last weekend at the Varsity Theatre.

With music by lyricist/librettist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken (whose more familiar credits include Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid," and "Aladdin"), "Little Shop of Horror" is a musical adaptation of on the 1960's Roger Corman science fiction movie of the same name.

Directed and choreographed by Steve Isaacson (who also did light design), this is the story of a strange plant from outer space which finds its way into a skid row flowership, owned by the blustery Mr. Mushnik. The plant is nurtured by Seymour Krelborn, a nerdy shop clerk madly in love with the naive and somewhat ditzy shop girl, Audrey. In her honor, Seymour names his plant Audrey II.

Existence of the plant brings customers to Mushnik's shop and fame to Seymour, but it turns out that Audrey is no mere plant, but a blood-guzzling creature from outer space, weaving Seymour into a web of greed and deception which spirals out of control. The results are both hilarious and harrowing.

The show begins with a trio of high school drop-outs, who hang around Mushnik's shop and, acting as a kind of Greek chorus, narrate the story in song as the action progresses. The girls each get moments within their songs to shine. In particular, Marilou Ubaldo, as Crystal, a new addition to the Davis Musical Theatre, is terrific. The other girls, Kristi Tucker as Ronnette and Megan O'Laughlin are also excellent.

Costumer Jean Henderson has had great fun with the girls as the play progresses. At one point they all sport Marge Simpson-esque hair, and their red sparkly evening gowns at the conclusion of the show are terrific, particularly on Tucker.

Clocky McDowell is visually an excellent Seymour. He's clumsy and nerdy and moons wonderfully over Audrey. Unfortunately he was having some problems staying on pitch the evening I attended the show and two or three ensemble numbers had spots which were quite painful to listen to. There were also some articulation difficulties, especially when he was conversing with the plant, which required him to have his back to the audience. While microphones are not necessary in a house the size of the Varsity, having the plant amplified (the fabulous backstage voice of Brian McCann), while Seymour is not, created an imbalance.

Andrea Eve Thorpe totters around the stage on the spike heels of Audrey and is delightful to watch. She wears the mini-est of mini skirts, which she explains are her "good clothes." Her voice doesn't have the exaggerated accent of some Audreys, but her characterization works well. Audrey longs to leave skid row and live "somewhere that's green," but is trapped in an abusive relationship with the masochistic dentist, Orin Scrivello.

Troy Thomas proves himself a jack of all trades, listed in the program as playing no less than seven different roles (including Mrs. Luce), but it is his reprise of the dentist Scrivello where he shines. Thomas played the role in DMTC's 1996 production and his return for 2002 is a tribute to his comfort in the part. He gyrates around the stage, laughs maniacally while sniffing laughing gas, and becomes the man you love to hate. While we don't regret his ultimate fate, the depiction of it is quite gruesome and while funny, perhaps not for the squeamish.

Dan Shallock is making his DMTC debut as Mr. Mushnik and does a competent job as the gruff flower shop owner who rescued Seymour from a skid row orphanage and gave him a bed under the shop counter and allows him one Sunday off every two weeks.

The real star of the show, of course, is Audrey II. The plant, which increases in size with each scene, eventually takes over most of the stage. John Coyne deserves much praise for his ability not only to spend the entire second act inside the plant, but also to bring such personality to the huge puppet.

Kudos also to the construction crew of Audrey II: Doug Hicke, John Coyne, Kristin Gold, Audrey Green, Joe Green, Anna Johnson, Clocky McDowell, Megan O'Laughlin, Dan Schallock, Heather Sheridan, Troy Thomas and Ben Wormeli. The sheer number of people needed to bring Audrey II from the drawing board to the stage is a testament to the care lavished on this production.

The functional set designed by Ron Easley makes good use of the width of the Varsity stage, leaving space at the very edges for winos on one side and the drop outs on the other.

The members of the DMTC orchestra--Jonathan Rothman, Celeste Hammon, Ben Wormeli, Emma Fisher and Andy Sullivan do an excellent job of accompanying the cast

Little Shop of Horror is a fun night of theatre. There are a few rough spots, but nobody who attends this production will go away disappointed.

Stars: 3-1/2

Little Shop continues Friday, Saturday and Sunday through January 27. Friday and Saturday performances at 8:15 and Matinees Sundays at 2:15.