St. Paul’s Zion Lutheran Church, setting of Theatre Coup d’Etat’s searing new production of “The Crucible,” has seen better days, the creaky sort of sanctuary you’d expect to host a Christmas pageant, not a serious drama. And yet on a snowy Friday opening, it was obvious that this well-acted “Crucible” is appropriately set and seasonally appropriate.
When Arthur Miller’s classic debuted in 1953, it drew unapologetic parallels between the Red Scare and the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Friday, at the end of the opening act, as two impressive young actresses shrieked of seeing Goody Bibber and Goody Booth with the devil, even the most apolitical audience member was reminded that despite the serenity outside Zion Lutheran, on a quiet residential street decked out with Christmas lights, we live in a country where some want to put Muslim Americans on a watch list.
The consort of 17th-century mean girls led by Abigail Williams (Kaylyn Forkey) were the alt-right conspiracy theorists of their time (but better looking). Crying “witchcraft” empowered working-class girls who felt ignored by the political powers that be in Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Some theater troupes have responded to the current political climate by mounting Trumpian riffs such as Joshua Harmon’s tragicomedy “Ivanka: A Medea for Right Now,” staged in Washington, D.C., on the eve of election day. Credit Coup d’Etat with simply mounting a classic, emphasis on “simply,” rather than a knee-jerk diatribe.
There are no sets in this production; director Brian Joyce instead makes clever use of Zion Lutheran’s pulpit platform, choir stalls and first four pews. (Pro tip: Sit as close to the front as you can.) The colonial costumes are convincing enough, and, more importantly, so is the acting. None of the 20 cast members is an Equity member, yet you have to go deep into the supporting roster before you notice a few subpar performances.
Coup d’Etat producer James Napoleon Stone stars as a complex John Proctor, who ardently loves his wife, Elizabeth (Jamie White Jachimiec), and confesses his attraction to Abigail. Jachimiec comes off as wholesome but not holier-than thou, while Kevin Fanshaw, as Reverend Hale, is quite the “eager-eyed intellectual” Miller prescribed, one whose turn from persecutor to jailhouse chaplain seems entirely sincere. Perhaps it’s unfair to expect more crazy-eyed zeal from Charles Numrich as Gov. Danforth, but he should come across as a politician who would go on a 3 a.m. Twitter rant if he could. This is a guy who relishes sunrise hangings.
Coup d’Etat errs by attempting to insert recorded Renaissance music and sound effects like the crack of necks hanging from the gallows. Such gaffes distract from the otherwise impressionistic production. How unfortunate that Miller’s allegory remains so relevant. How smart of Coup d’Etat to remind us.