My husband and I visited New York to celebrate my father-in-law’s 90th birthday. To make the most out of this short visit we added a few activities including golf and a Broadway show.
We saw the current Broadway rendition of Arthur Miller’s masterpiece The Crucible directed by Ivo van Hove, who is known for his iconoclastic interpretations of stage classics. And van Hove’s rendition of Miller’s well known work proved that his reputation as an iconoclast was well founded.
We went to the Walter Kerr Theater after having excellent Japanese kaiseki dinner at Brushstroke. Though the dinner was deliciously and authentically Japanese, toward the end of the dinner we became anxious to leave the restaurant to catch the show in mid-town. If one knows anything about the traffic situation at lower Manhattan on Friday night one might have panicked as we did a little. We finished the dinner around 7:15pm and hurriedly tried make it to Walter Kerr Theater on time. When we arrived at the theater after parking the rented car at a nearby parking lot, we found a long snaking line of people waiting to get into the theater. Due to recent terror attacks on “soft targets,” theater security people were checking each ticket-holder’s bag. We thought the performance would start later than the designated time of 8pm. But, it didn’t.
The curtain rose on time at 8pm. First we saw a brief silent scene of school girls sitting in a “modern” classroom with their backs to the audience. This prologue at once disoriented and re-oriented the audience who were familiar with the original play. The focus is no longer merely the danger of mass hysteria or delusion created by utterly unethical political manipulation and deception, but rather the initial mute scene seemed to suggest van Hove’s rendition focused on the system of education in its wider sense, acculturation.
Then, the play started. First thing I noticed about this production of The Crucible was its refusal to use the historical background of the witch trial in 1690s’ Massachusetts. The characters were costumed in pseudo-universal clothes of school uniforms and utilitarian suits (which nonetheless pointed to the historical period when the play was written) that highlighted the production’s intent to universalize the concept of mass hysteria and witch-hunt.
Like Arthur Miller’s original play, which was a cloaked indictment against the notorious McCarthyism of the 1950s, this production of The Crucible was certainly not about the real episode in American history, Salem witch trials. Van Hove’s production seems to aim at transcending any concrete historical context. However, I was very much puzzled by some scenes with supernatural events, such as a levitation scene and the sudden angry gust through the windows. If the point of the play is the danger of mass hysteria caused by fear of unreal menace, this actualization of “devil/ witch spell” as real merely seems to create incoherence. Yet, this aspect of van Hove’s production certainly made me think about the significance of such presentation of apparent incoherence. So finally I concluded: in his production of The Crucible, van Hove wanted to deconstruct Arthur Miller’s original play to reveal its underlying bias against femininity/young women, the supernatural and human sexuality.
The performance of the actors was more or less uniformly intense and filled with feverish anger, anguish or desire, and created the electrifying atmosphere in the theater for most of its running time. The audience who saw the production with me was very happy with the play and gave the standing ovation to the cast of actors at the end of the show.