It’s been just three years since Ivo Van Hove’s star-heavy, radical re-envisioning of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” roared onto Broadway, complete with an elaborate set, Philip Glass score and onstage wolves. Now Eric Tucker’s Bedlam offers a pared-down take on the 1953 play that fits with the company’s just-the-basics approach to classics from “Twelfth Night” to “The Seagull” to an acclaimed adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense & Sensibility.”
Bedlam’s “Crucible,” which opened Thursday at Off Broadway’s Connelly Theater, presents the story of the 17th-century Salem witch trials straight, with no frills — and no obvious attempts to draw parallels to either the McCarthy era in which Miller wrote the play or any modern political or social currents.
Credit goes to the first-rate cast, many of them Bedlam regulars, led by Ryan Quinn as reluctant hero John Proctor — who comes to regret his affair with a teenage girl, Abigail (Truett Felt), when she leads the wave of witchcraft accusations that soon target his own wife (Susannah Millonzi). Quinn captures Proctor in all his contradictions, a decent man who has done wrong and now struggles to make up for his sins in a hypocritical society where the right path is anything but clear.
As the Rev. John Hale, a learned expert brought into Salem when the first accusations surface, Bedlam artistic director Eric Turner presents a similar study in decency struggling in the midst of outrageous indecency. Even the villains of the piece get a fair shake: Paul Lazar’s Judge Thomas Danforth has a by-the-book approach to piety and jurisprudence that leads him to a blind allegiance to the flawed legal system where the accused can only be saved from execution by swearing false confessions of wrongdoing. He may remind you of that Fox News-loving uncle who just can’t be shaken from his prescribed talking points.
At just under three hours, “The Crucible” can be a long sit — and may seem longer because the audience are often seated in wooden, cushion-less slat-back chairs close to the stage. Those chairs sometimes double as jail cells in John McDermott’s set design, which relies heavily on thrift-store furniture. The production also features simple costumes (by Charlotte Palmer-Lane) and handheld lights (including a key night-time confrontation illuminated only by flashlights).
Despite the stripped-down simplicity of Bedlam’s approach, or perhaps because of it, the power of Miller’s story remains vitally and viscerally intact.