Arthur Miller's classic, a response to the communism uproar of the early 1950s, remains as relevant today as when it premiered 56 years ago. The townspeople and authorities of Salem, Mass., careen headfirst down a path of tragic inevitability. Pressure mounts as accusations fly. All told, 19 were hanged, one man was pressed to death with rocks, and 13 more died languishing in prison before the trials were concluded in January 1693.
Though Miller's script is damning in its condemnation of unbridled hysteria, this production is remarkably uneven in exhibiting the torment of the subject matter. Given the intimate nature of this venue and the extreme proximity of the audience and stage, physical choices play an unexpectedly important role here. Unfortunately, the majority of director Marianne Savell's cast seem unable to convey a sense of the period. Particularly conspicuous is Daniel J. Roberts' wide-eyed, one-note take on Reverend Parris, the town's minister. Arm-flailing and shrieking seem an overblown substitute for intensity. The same can be said of Gary Clemmer's 21st-century physicalization of Reverend Hale, the court-appointed examiner.
Against this backdrop of inconsistency, the exceptions are impressively significant. On the night reviewed, Greg Martin appeared in the pivotal role of John Proctor. Martin's nuanced performance was stunning in its simplicity. Slowly stoking a simmering pot of emotions and frustration, his final cries of anguish are chilling. Nan McNamara's performance as Proctor's wife, Elizabeth, is equally heart-wrenching as we witness the thawing of her character's icy demeanor. Beautifully crafted supporting performances are provided by Tannis Hanson as Mary Warren, the Proctors' terrified house servant, and by Tim Farmer as Francis Nurse, whose despair over the loss of his wife is gripping.
Shon Le Blanc's surprisingly piecemeal Puritan costuming includes saucy Renaissance Faire attire for town harlot Abigail Williams and Reverend Hale's distractingly leprechaun-green waistcoat. Gary Lee Reed's imposing wood plank thrust stage leaves Savell's blocking and direction feeling hampered in the larger crowd scenes. Joseph King Barkley's original compositions play at often-deafening levels.
Presented by Actors' Co-op at the Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. May 1–June 7. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. (Also Sat. 2:30 p.m. May 9 and 16.) (323) 462-8460, ext. 300.