Even though Arthur Miller was a man so much of our time that he only died a couple of years ago, his most read and most performed play—“The Crucible”—has been interpreted for decades as an autobiographical allegory of the McCarthy-era Communist interrogations which Miller experienced firsthand by being blacklisted for refusing to name names of artistic colleagues with Communist “leanings.” In a post-Soviet Union era where Communism is no longer even an imagined—let alone real—threat, that narrow interpretation that is still taught as standard English-class curriculum misses the larger point: that the powerful will always play off the weak, particularly when a climate of fear rules the day. But wedding “The Crucible” to a particular time and place that is long past keeps the work at a safe distance and a “classic” that can even become the subject of the City of Chicago’s “One Book, One Chicago.” The current Steppenwolf production—which puts the work where it belongs, i.e., the stage rather than the page—serves as a powerful reminder of why the work resonates so deeply. Directed by ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro, it features a first-class ensemble cast that more disturbingly portrays the non-stop engine of hysteria and panic that underlies the text more accurately than any production I have encountered. What is particularly moving about James Vincent Meredith’s portrayal of John Proctor is his total vulnerability in the face of his own weaknesses. (Dennis Polkow)
At Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 North Halsted, (312)335-1650. This production is now closed.