|The cast of THE CRUCIBLE at Cumberland Players|
perform the courtroom scene, led by Arielle Egan
as Abigail. The play runs through Nov. 10, 8 p.m.
Tickets $13-16. Heidi Dugan directs.
I attended the preview where invitees review the show through Twitter and Instagram using hashtag #CPCrucible to aggregate the reviews online. It's an outstanding concept that Cumberland Players started in 2013 with "Les Miserables" and has since spread to other theaters in South Jersey.
The dark opening of townswomen dancing in the nearby Salem forest preludes to a harrowing story exploring the dissolution of justice, the rise of dogmatic paranoia, and the hysterics behind lies involving the supernatural. To summarize, a young woman named Abigail is having an affair with married man John Proctor, and, when he begins to refuse her advances, she spins a web of lies involving witchcraft that lead to the real-life death of numerous early American puritans in the 17th century.
Arielle Egan gives a powerhouse performance as Abigail, stunning from the moment she steps on stage, and giving everything in the courtroom scene and her moments with Proctor. Maura Mather Jarve, a long-time South Jersey actress, reduces the audience to tears (with her own tears) as a sensitive and still Elizabeth Proctor. Jarve's work has been called, by numerous critics an acting "masterclass."
Samantha Williams stars as Mary Warren, a woman laden with guilt over the power of convicting others of witchcraft, eventually framed for witchcraft-via-poppet by back-stabbing Abigail. Williams gives a tremdously moving break-out performance of guilt and anguish.
The whole production is peppered with electrifying performances by Bobbi Kukal as Ann Putnam, Carey Walden as Tituba, Emily Kukal as Betty Paris, supported by many excellent female players. I have so many wonderful things to say about each of these spectacular performers. The women lead this show, deservedly so.
In his first time ever on stage, John Krug shows a great natural ability playing John Proctor. Without knowing this was his first role, I tweeted during the performance "John Krug plays John Proctor with a spectrum of guilt, pain, and compassion -- a great actor to bring us through this journey." I stand by it even more now.
Ben Hunt, who performed about half-a-decade ago in the Levoy's "Biloxi Blues" returns to South Jersey in an outstanding performance as the conflicted Reverend John Hale, doing his job but searching always for his conscience. Hunt completes a full arch in his role as the moral compass of Salem, fighting the devil, before witnessing John Proctor's conviction, eroding his confidence and falling to disillusionment.
In Act Two we're served with a fabulous duo of John Weiner as Judge Hathorne and Richard Curcio as Deputy Governor Danforth, presiding over the Salem Witch Trials. Rarely have these two been seen together, and here they're literally shoulder-to-shoulder. Curcio and Weiner together give absolute iconic performances.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I left out one of the most earnest performances of the night, Ellen Mather as Rebecca Nurse. How wonderful it is to see her back on stage in Cumberland County. She hasn't missed a beat, breaking our hearts as she is brutally accused of witchcraft, marching to the gallows. And even greater, to see her acting alongside the always-incomparable Hank Chandless as Francis Nurse.
Some great supporting performances here, Robert Cook providing a bit of relief as Giles Corey, Bradley Marcus in a smart, taut performance as Ezekiel Cheever, Jim Dennis opening the play strong as Reverend Parris, and Ahmad Graves-El as Thomas Putnam (another great and underrated performance).
We've all read this in our junior-year high school English class, but Heidi Dugan pulls a cast of seasoned veterans and newcomers together and navigates us through a live tour-de-force. Dugan allows her actors to thrive in a parred down, open setting, giving room for their characters to breath and exercise their craft, supported by excellent assistance from Shaun Laurencio (assistant director), Shannon Sheridan's beautiful costumes, Yasenia Wagner's wonderful stage management, and Jason Smith's tremendous production management. Dugan's the unseen star here. She could have connected this to our current state of affairs, or even McCarthyism, for which it was written, but she does not. She and the cast allow the story to speak for itself, making it more universal than expected. Maybe more relevant.
THE CRUCIBLE BY ARTHUR MILLER. PERFORMANCES NOVEMBER 9 AND 10, 2018 AT 8 P.M. ALL PERFORMANCES AT THE LITTLE THEATRE ON SHERMAN AVENUE IN VINELAND, N.J. TICKETS $13-16. STAGE MANAGED BY YASENIA WAGNER. PRODUCTION MANAGED BY JASON SMITH. ASSISTANT DIRECTED BY SHAUN LAURENCIO. COSTUMES BY SHANNON SHERIDAN. STARRING ARIELLE EGAN, JOHN KRUG, MAURA MATHER JARVE, SAMANTHA WILLIAMS, BENJAMIN HUNT, AND CAREY WALDEN. ALSO STARRING RICHARD CURCIO, ELLEN MATHER, JOHN WEINER, JIM DENNIS, EMILY KUKAL, SHANIA SANTIAGO, AHMAD GRAVES-EL, BRIANNA WEBSTER, ROBRT COOK, HANK CHANDLESS, BRADLEY MARCUS, KEN BUTLER, DESIREE LARA, EMILY CARDILL, AND LEILA MYERS. DIRECTED BY HEIDI DUGAN.