Actors Theatre Opens 'Crucible'

THE National Actors Theatre has launched an impressive revival of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." The tragedy about 17th-century Salem gripped by hysteria over imagined witchcraft has lost none of its power since Broadway first welcomed the work in 1953.The tragedy begins as the Rev. Samuel Parris (Brian Reddy) kneels at the bedside of his mysteriously stricken daughter Betty (Genia Sewell Michaela). When the local doctor can find no cause for the child's illness, the presence of "unnatural causes" is immediately suspected - a surmise that Parris angrily rejects. The circumstance sets in motion the complex drama in which suspicion and accusation demoralize a community beset by fear and superstition. The Rev. John Hale of Beverly (Michael York) is called in to assist in what becomes literally a witch hunt. Far from dispelling suspicions, Hale declares: "There are spirits laying hands on these children." Deputy Governor Danforth (Fritz Weaver), who comes to quell the hysteria, instead places his stamp of approval on further hangings. If an individual is determined to be possessed, he or she can then be deprived of property at the word of a greedy fellow townsman. There is plenty of suspicion to go round in benighted Salem. John Proctor (Martin Sheen) is the independent holdout who challenges the forces of superstition. But Proctor is known as a man who sometimes skips church and has plowed on the Sabbath. He and his innocent wife Elizabeth (Maryann Plunkett) both fall victims to the plague of spite masquerading as witchcraft. Mr. Sheen gives a stalwart performance as the strong-minded farmer and Ms. Plunkett is gently appealing as Elizabeth, the frail wife whom he has briefly betrayed. Madeleine Potter is both devious and defiant as Abigail Williams, who is determined to replace Elizabeth and who organizes the "possession" that overtakes Mary Warren (Jane Adams) and some of her young friends. "The Crucible" benefits from the powerful ensemble performance staged by Israeli director Yossi Yzraely. Outstanding among the principals are Mr. York as the well-meaning, intervening Beverly divine, Mr. Weaver as the autocratic Deputy Governor, John Beal and Martha Scott as Francis and Rebecca Nurse, and Carol Woods as the Barbadoan slave suspected for her part in the nocturnal rituals. The action proceeds in a central space surrounded by a grove of ominous trees (designed by David Jenkins), with colonial costumes by Patricia Zipprodt, and broodingly atmospheric lighting by Richard Nelson.T'S comedy tonight at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre - five nights and three matinees a week, to be more precise. "Catskills on Broadway" samples the kind of entertainment offered by a once-thriving assortment of Jewish-American hotels in the Catskill Mountains. The hotels in turn provided the proving groun ds for entertainers who went on to become household names: Mel Brooks, Goldie Hawn, Sid Caesar, Alan King, Jackie Mason, Moss Hart, Red Buttons, and Buddy Hackett to name a few. Freddie Roman, who conceived the show as a tribute to his peers and predecessors, opens the proceedings and sets the style for the occasion: stand-up comic shtick by an audience-friendly cast steeped in the borscht-belt tradition. He is accompanied at by Marilyn Michaels, Mal Z. Lawrence, and Dick Capri. The quartet does amiably by the tradition it celebrates. The comedians tell New York jokes, Florida jokes, nostalgia jokes, etcetera, for an uninterrupted two hours. A sample jest: "Are there any Japanes e in the audience?" asks Mr. Capri. (Pause) "Welcome to your country." Mr. Lawrence tells an elaborate tale in song titles, reflects on gambling, and does impressions. The star mimic of the occasion, however, is Ms. Michaels, who captures a bevy of performers from Julie Andrews to Barbra Streisand. The production has been designed by Lawrence Miller and Peggy Esenhauer. Led by Barry Levitt, the mobile onstage band provides solid accompaniment. Larry Arrick supervised the Catskills excursion.

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