Reviews ...

Melrose students shine in "The Crucible"

... his tears aroused tears in the audience. A moving portrait ...

by Jackie Wattenberg

We're near enough to Salem to be aware of the notorious witch trials and for students to realize how innocent lives can be torn apart and justice denied. Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" defines those awful events.

So it was wise of Melrose High's Drama Club coach (as well as Latin teacher) Tanja Hiti to choose this play for performance recently in Barry Auditorium. The roles are of course mature characters, but it was amazing to see how well the students did, creating a highly absorbing recreation of those harrowing days.

It was an interesting coincidence, too, that the three days of their performances -- Dec. 8-10 -- of this play that climaxes in a bitter court scene with a proud and unfeeling judge finding our nation gripped in a court drama regarding our presidential election.

Miller, probably our greatest living playwright, has always been concerned about justice, the plight of the lonely and struggling persons who suffer at the hands of the privileged and proud. Another contemporary point of reference, perhaps, is that in the play people whose crimes are unsubstantiated or only imagined may be condemned to the death penalty. Then, it was hanging. Today our own state of Massachusetts faces the pressure of some in the legislature to bring back the death penalty.

The characters in the play were real, of course, and caught up in a weird drama that involved the young and impressionable as well as devoted family men and women of all ages. As the leading figure of John Proctor, the man who personified the conscience of the community, Vinny Ularich projected a personality of troubled depth that never wavered. He maintained his sense of guilt over his weaknesses, rage over his town's moral disintegration, and a very human concern for his wife and his own life; his tears aroused tears in the audience. A moving portrait.

The final court scene was a highlight, with Matt Paley in a suave enactment of Deputy Governor Danforth, who commands the trial. He brought a mature arrogance and coldness to the part, articulate, affected, proud in his power, refusing any postponement of hangings that would show "a floundering on my part." So much for the honor of judges.

Another winning part was Vanessa Roman's Mary Warren, whom Vanessa endowed with convincing unsureness and querulousness, holding onto her emotional quandary throughout the play. Theresa Melito as the leader of the witch-seeing girls performed with her usual vividness and easeful projection to the audience, conveying the irresponsibility and recklessness of her character.

Katie Sikkema as Proctor's wife brought a wholesome but worried patience firmly to the role. Rachel Cranmer was sternly bitter as Ann Putnam, and Eric Barriere confident as her loyal husband. As Rev. Hale, Chris Lavoie demonstrated once again his easy, natural acting style, and Rory Hatfield's old man also had the ring of naturalness in his angry outbursts.

The anxious Rev. Parris was ever forceful and demanding of our attention as portrayed by Tim Daly. Tiffany Cunningham made old Rebecca Nurse a gentle dear soul, and Drew Linehan was bright and skilled with Barbados accent as Tituba. As a little girl somehow stricken, Alison Bliss did some wonderfully effective screaming, and Debbie Gaudreau,in a male role of a judge, was poised and unperturbed.

Not a weak link in the cast. A few wigs and aging makeup might have made the elders more elderly, and facing your audience assures your lines being heard. But this is an impressive play, impressively performed by talented students.

This article was previously published in the Melrose Free Press on Dec. 28, 2000 and is reprinted here with their permission.

January 5, 2001

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