The Crucibleby Arthur Miller, Directed by Richard Eyre, Starring Liam Neeson and Laura Linney, Virginia Theatre, New York City

A riveting performance by Liam Neeson in the classic Arthur Miller play, The Crucible, under the excellent direction of Richard Eyre, could not have come to Broadway at a better time. The decision to produce The Crucible in these political times was not made by chance. Miller is a playwright who fully appreciates the dangers to democracy posed by the ultra-right. At the Harold Pinter Festival at Lincoln Center last summer, Miller spoke about the threat to all civil rights that is posed by the election of George W. Bush and his appointment of John Ashcroft as Attorney General.

Written in 1952, The Crucible is the story of the 17th century Salem, Massachusetts, witch trials. Miller used the trials as an analogy for the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings. The judge in the play threatens, “they are either with us or against us,” almost strangely foreshadowing the words of White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer. The play is as relevant as ever to the political scene, speaking to the great dangers to democracy when dissent is discouraged and in fact outlawed.

In his director’s note, Richard Eyre drew a comparison between John Proctor, the main character in the play acted by Neeson, and Arthur Miller. “It was Arthur Miller who faced a committee, the House Un-American Activities Committee, some three years after he wrote The Crucible. Under threat of imprisonment and blacklisting, he refused to name the friends and acquaintances who might have had some association, however faint, with left-wing causes and the Communist Party. Miller’s heroes, however, are not intellectuals; they are salesmen, dockers, policemen, farmers, who seek salvation by asserting their singularity, by redeeming their ‘names’ even at the cost of their lives.”

For theatergoers the only problems are the cost of seeing the production and its short run.

This production of The Crucible is a very positive political signal. It shows that some Broadway producers see the need to encourage with artistic presentations the emerging political sentiments against the Bush administration policies of curbing civil liberties in the name of the war on terrorism. No doubt that can make Broadway a more exciting and entertaining cultural venue.

– Eric Green