Burbank’s Theatre Banshee tops itself, this time with “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller’s Tony Award-winning indictment of mankind’s affinity for emotional hysteria.
Miller’s script dramatizes the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 in a thinly veiled condemnation of the McCarthy anti-communism hearings.
So often, Miller’s work is treated with excessive reverence resulting in a stodgy, dry, poetic stoicism, devoid of any guts or dramatic impact.
Not so with the Banshee’s production under the expert hand of director Sean Branney.
This company’s collective willingness to highlight the nastiest aspects of human behavior makes Miller’s work as compelling as when first presented in 1953.
Along with this comes the tragic inevitability of a story with which audiences are already familiar.
Branney and his cast do a fantastic job of accentuating those spots in Miller’s script where, for at least a moment, there is a faint glimmer of hope that these 17th century Puritans will do the right thing.
And then with horror we watch, gasping, as the uncontrollable avalanche, unleashed by a group of teenage girls, sweeps away all semblance of humanity and common sense.
Leading this cabal of liars is Sarah van der Pol’s extraordinary performance in the pivotal role of Abigail Williams.
Scorned by her lover and ex-employer, John Proctor (played by Shawn Savage), Williams goes on a rampage as she and her compatriots set their sights on anyone who threatens them.
Van der Pol is downright scary giving wing to Abigail’s psychopathic vengeance.
Only once, when Proctor publicly calls her out as an adulteress, does she falter; however, she quickly regains her momentum, and it’s clear that all is truly lost.
As Proctor, Savage’s demeanor seems somewhat “modern” at times, and although a first-act scene with wife Elizabeth — given quiet strength by Karen Zumsteg — feels rushed, his play-ending self-realization is heartbreaking.
Noteworthy supporting work appears in Matt Foyer’s pathetically indecisive Reverend Parris; Barry Lynch’s crusty Giles Corey; Vivian Kerr’s terrified house girl, Mary Warren; and Mark Colson and Kathleen M. Darcy as Thomas and Ann Putnam, a greedy landowner and his bitter wife.
Rounding out this remarkable list are Cameron J. Oro and David Pavao as local citizens forced into service as court officials; Rebecca Wackler’s sympathetic midwife, Rebecca Nurse; Kevin Stidham’s soul-searching Reverend Hale; and Andrew Graves as Deputy-Governor Danforth, the one man who could have put an end to this calamity.
Scenic elements including Arthur MacBride’s rough-hewn wood platform, Laura Brody’s costuming, R. Christopher Stokes’ moody lighting and Erik Hockman’s original music add beautifully to the overall effect.
Although one can draw parallels to the current state of national and world affairs, the Banshee’s must-see production’s power is one rooted in exposing the basest of human emotions.
Dink O’Neal, an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Assn., resides in Burbank.
What: “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 15
Where: The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank
Tickets: $13 to $20
Contact: (818) 846-5323 or visit www.theatrebanshee.org