by Lynn on January 25, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r: Jon Barrie and Melissa Taylor
Photo: Scott Gorman



At Hart House Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Arthur Miller

Directed by Michael Rubinstein

Set by Chris Penna

Costumes by Brandon Kleiman

Lighting by C.J. Astronomo

Sound by Jeremy Hutton

Cast: Jon Berrie

Anthony Botelho

Abigail Craven

Joanna Decc

Thomas Gough

Tomas Ketchum

Courtney Lamanna

Allyson Landy

Charlin McIsaac

Brandon Nicoletti

David John Phillips

Tom Anthony Quinn

Nicholas Koy Santillo

Melissa Taylor

Nina Rose Taylor

Magda Uculmana-Falcon

Marilyn Willock

A bracing, provocatively imagined production of Arthur Miller’s troubling play because it always seems to be so timely.

 The Story. In 1692 Salem, Massachusetts was a town of God fearing, church going folks but something was going wrong. Rumour, innuendo and gossip ruled the town in which several of the town’s teenaged girls acted as if they were possessed by the devil. Decent town’s folks were implicated. Reputations were ruined in spite of no proof. People were sentenced by the courts to be hanged.

John Proctor, a flawed but decent man, was forced to confess he saw the devil and was asked to name those of his friends who saw the devil too. His moral dilemma as to what to do weighed on him mightily. What would he do?

 The Production. Director Michael Rubinstein says he has set this brooding, dark drama in an almost fairy-tale world. “Fairy-tale world” suggests something pleasant. Rubinstein’s striking, evocative production conjures something that is closer to darkly ‘otherworldly’ which is a more fitting word. The trees are bare, the branches spindly-spooky.

The play opens at night in the woods and many young women are dancing in a frenzy, screaming when they are overcome.  Some townsmen spy this and imagine all manner of weird behaviour. This sets off a chain of events in which the townsfolk try to understand what is happening to these young women and when they can’t find a reasonable answer, the whole notion of witchcraft and the devil are cited.

The acting is variable but there are standouts. As Abigail Williams the leader of the frenzied women, Courtney Lamanna is a cold-eyed, calculating woman who will ruin anyone who gets in her way. Her stare can pin a man to the spot. Mary Warren is also one of the girls and as played by Nina Rose Taylor, she is both crazed when under Mary Warren’s influence  and fragile-minded when John Proctor tries to make her tell the truth. Jon Barrie as John Proctor is a sturdy, conflicted man. He knows he has erred when he strayed from his wife, but is gripped with remorse when he’s faced with his transgression. He’s quite moving when he shows Proctor’s steady character and how he can’t sign his name to his confession. It’s one of Arthur Miller’s most stirring speeches and Barrie says it beautifully. Melissa Taylor plays Elizabeth Proctor, John Proctor’s upright, straight-laced, rigid wife with compassion, sensitivity and a breaking heart.

Guiding it all with a sure hand and a keen eye for the telling detail is director Michael Rubinstein. He stages and directs this difficult show beautifully. His concept serves the play well and his ability to ring every bit of emotion from fraught moments is beautifully done. I want to see more of his work for sure.

Comment.  Playwright Arthur Miller used the McCarthy witch hunts in the early 1950’s as his model for the play, in which rumour and innuendo condemned people to prison, saying people were communists. Friends were asked to name names and turn in their friends. Some refused. Some ratted on their friends.

In this day and age of inappropriate behaviour and the swiftness in condemning people without a trial Miller’s play is very prescient and timely. Alas one wonders if it will ever go out of fashion.

Produced by Hart House Theatre.

 Opened: Jan. 19, 2018.

Closes: Feb. 3, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes approx.

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