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Theater review: 'The Crucible' at Theatre Banshee

April 28, 2011 |  3:39 pm

Poppet-l Three weekends remain to catch "The Crucible" at Theatre Banshee. Nobody who values riveting, meaningful theater can afford to miss it. Arthur Miller's classic 1953 Tony winner about the Salem witch trials receives an electrifying revival, as acute as it is affecting.

Miller's original intent -- to recount the hysteria that beset Puritan Massachusetts in 1692 as a cautionary corollary to the McCarthy hearings -- created a more bluntly self-contained property than the subtly ranging universality of his masterwork "Death of a Salesman." Yet "Crucible's" very specificity makes its own timeless statement, one that speaks to authoritarian fear-mongering of any period, ours inclusive.

As for subtlety, director Sean Branney's incisive handling of his marvelous cast supplies emotional nuance aplenty. Approaching Miller's arcane syntax with unforced naturalism, Branney builds the rising action by inexorable stages, achieving a hair-raising fever pitch at the courtroom climax and a deeply moving jail cell denouement.

Shawn Savage and Karen Zumsteg inhabit bedeviled John and Elizabeth Proctor with unerring honesty; Sarah van der Pol pulls malevolent Abigail's machinations from her marrow. Matt Foyer's craven Rev. Parris, Barry Lynch's clarion Giles Corey and Rebecca Wackler's beatific Rebecca Nurse might have walked off Miller's pages. Kevin Stidham's earnest Rev. Hale, Vivian Kerr's vivid Mary Warren and Donald Agnelli and Andrew Graves' judicial tag-team are other focal points amid a seamless, selfless ensemble.

Negotiating designer Arthur MacBride's stark set and Laura Brody's prim costumes without obvious effort, they grab us from the outset and never let go thereafter. For all its enduring classroom status, "The Crucible" is no mere historical document, but pulse-quickening, ever-trenchant drama, and this taut, perceptive chamber edition is a company benchmark.

-- David C. Nichols

"The Crucible," Theatre Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 15. $20. (818) 846-5323 or Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

Photo: Shawn Savage, from left, Karen Zumsteg, Cameron Oro, David Pavao and Barry Lynch. Credit:  Byron Turk