Chilling, evocative, and precise, the Cameri Theatre production of The Crucible, directed by Gilad Kimhi, strikes a powerful chord that reverberates long after the final curtain, marked by outstanding performances by the entire cast. Written by Arthur Miller in 1953, in the heat of the McCarthy era, the original play is an allegory based on the historic Salem witch trials in the late 1600s. Miller himself was questioned by the Committee on Un-American Activities, and convicted of contempt for refusing to name others. The current version, a translation to Hebrew and adaptation by Gur Koren and Gilad Kimhi, is a testimony to the play’s universal quality in its depiction of the inequities and disease that can permeate all human societies. The story of Puritan society, in which power, wealth, and religion collude to reign over the masses with the threat of damnation, and the façade of piety conceals serious transgressions, translates very smoothly into the Israeli reality, through the play’s imagery.
High cement walls, looming gray and foreboding, close on all three sides of the stage, a profound visual reference to anyone living in this region or involved in its politics. Stark and harsh, Eran Atzmon’s set is literally grounded in the land, taking part in the storytelling of the production, the floor of the stage covered by dark earth, with a revolving wooden platform in the center. The ominous quality is enhanced by Amir Lekner’s music, and the atmospheric lighting by Avi Yona Bueno. Five girls appear, clad in blue button-down shirts and long skirts. Here, as with the other characters, Orna Smorgonsky has devised a costume that automatically keys into the Jewish-Israeli cultural code, in this case, the ubiquitous uniform of religious girls. Chests heaving with every breath, mysterious smiles on their lips, they strike up a light, and disappear. Then the whispering begins.
In a society where so much of human activity is defined as sin, there will inevitably be transgression, concealment, and hypocrisy. Five girls take part in mysterious activities in the woods, and have the bad luck to be caught by Parris (Rami Baruch), leader of the community. Among the group is his daughter, Betty (Alona Saar), who faints and falls into a convulsive state, arousing the suspicion that she has been possessed by Satanic forces. Concerned and curious, the neighbors come by to pray for her recovery and get the details, it’s rumored that she flew, and everyone wants to know: how high? The desire to keep up appearances, and keep the land, income, and power that comes with his position, leads Reverend Parris down a slippery slope, urged on by the good (or not so good) intentions of community members such as the wealthy Thomas Putnam (Uri Rawitz). The Reverend John Hale (Itay Tiran), an expert on witchcraft, is called in to investigate.
The translation from Christian to Jewish-Israeli community is seamless, “Reverend Parris” is referred to here as the leader of the community (Yishuv), and “Reverend John Hale” talks about the Torah, while Tituba (Anastasia Fein), the slave Parris brought from Barbados, is here referred to as a foreign worker. When pointing the finger of blame, it is always most convenient to choose the outsider, and fittingly, Abigail Williams (Avigail Harari), the actual leader in these nocturnal adventures, blames Tituba. Under the fearsome scrutiny of Hale and Parris, a confession of sorts soon emerges. As Tituba spins out her confession, Abigail’s features are illuminated by a dangerous spark. Harari delivers a brilliant performance as the charismatic Abigail, expressing all the complexities of the character. Abigail is an orphan, a young woman without money or status in a society where women are the property of their fathers, to be passed on to suitable husbands. Harari’s performance is imbued with the intelligence, power, and visceral sensuality of this character, who, lacking in socially acceptable options, blazes her own fiery path through life.
Abigail’s malevolent power is repugnant, yet she is also a victim, which Kimhi’s direction makes abundantly clear in the staging. There are many victims in this tale, yet few innocents, entirely free of guilt or wrong-doing; almost all are complicit in the devastation that rains upon this community and its people. Dan Shapira embodies this duality to perfection in his portrayal of John Proctor, a strong, confident, handsome man and independent thinker, so certain in his virtues and sense of entitlement, that he does not realize the extent of his own transgressions. The power of fear to shape and drive an entire community, leading everyone astray, is vividly expressed through different characters and situations. Netta Garti gives a nuanced performance as Mary Warren, the Proctor’s servant and one of the five girls, torn between fear of Abigail, fear of John Proctor, fear of community censure, and perhaps even a glimmer of the desire to do the right thing.
Eli Gornstein makes excellent use of his imposing voice and figure, with precisely choreographed gestures, to convey the fierce obsession and controlling drive of Danforth. Itay Tiran cultivates a menacing ambiguity in his depiction of Hale, with his quiet, yet impassioned tone, so certain of the Devil’s existence and his own ability to rout him out. Yet when he attempts to exorcise the devil from Betty, his hold on the girl is disturbingly sexual. Miriam Zohar as Rebecca Nurse is a voice of reason and integrity amid the chaos; Irit Kaplan radiates bitterness alternating with acceptance as Elizabeth, the wife of John Proctor; Itzhak Hezkiah is the stumbling busy-body who manages to tragically trip himself up; David Bilenca embodies the small man who suddenly falls into big shoes, eager to crush whoever he can step on. All the elements of this production – text, performances, movement, music, set, costumes, and lighting – come together for a riveting, provocative play that raises pertinent questions.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Translated by Gur Koren and Gilad Kimhi; Directed by Gilad Kimhi; Set: Eran Atzmon; Costumes: Orna Smorgonski; Music: Amir Lekner; Lighting: Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi); Director’s Assistant: Amir Apte; Cast: Abigail Williams – Avigail Harari, Mercy Lewis – Joy Rieger, Mary Warren – Netta Garti, Betty Parris – Alona Saar, Tituba – Anastasia Fein, Reverend Parris – Rami Baruch, Giles Corey – Itzhak Hezkia, Ann Putnam/Ruth Putnam – Andreea Schvartz, Thomas Putnam – Uri Rawitz, John Proctor – Dan Shapira, Rebecca Nurse – Miriam Zohar, Reverend John Hale – Itay Tiran/Koby Farag, Elizabeth Proctor – Irit Kaplan, Ezekiel Cheever – David Bilenca, Danforth – Eli Gornstein, Judge Hawthorne – Yossi Kantz.