>THE CRUCIBLE by Dramaplus Arts

>reviewed by arthur kok

>date: 21 jul 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: suntec city auditorium
>rating: ***1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.

>>>>>burn up the dross

The Case: truth under suspect. Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" is ignited with a breach of marital fidelity - John Proctor secretly commits "the sin of lechery" with Abigail Williams, a young hired help. Upon discovery, "the child" is immediately put out of the house by Elizabeth Proctor. But, "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Abigail takes to dancing, drinking blood and conjuring spirits, a little cathartic ritual that becomes unfortunate for many reasons. Ultimately stoked by the flames of religious crusade and the weight of the law, the young girls turn thespians. Playing the part of victims, these girls dare even accuse exemplary Christian Rebecca Nurse of witchcraft. Confess and live. Refuse and die.

The Hearing. Because individual-society, ethnic and cultural tension feature so greatly in "The Crucible", any re-staging of the play will necessarily draw focus on real-life counterparts. Director Lim Kay Siu simultaneously holds up the play as a solemn reminder of recent ethnic cleansings and as an indictment of Western interventionism. While the original script is still recognisable, ethnic-national identities are pointedly assigned to each character in Dramaplus Arts' THE CRUCIBLE. Apart from costuming, it was through intonation, speech patterns, subject-verb (dis)agreement that Rev. Parris was realised as an insecure money-faced middle-aged Chinese Singaporean male, Tituba a marginalised slave from Barbados and Deputy Governor Danforth with Thomas Putnam as embodiments of White colonial superiority.

>>'The cast's convicted delivery pressed home notions of intrinsic goodness, the power and abuse of the law, the effect of dominant values and practises on the marginalised and so on.'

The Proceedings. In deference to the powerful script, Lu Ping's set was kept simple, in the vein of iconic or functional architecture. Attention was to be centred on the action on stage. It was a marvel, and honestly it has been quite a while, to witness a play close to three hours long (vis-a-vis the fast-food theatre of late). Thankfully, the very competent cast managed to sustain the play's energy. Although 'butch' this time around, Ivan Heng carries off pathos-driven John Proctor - tormented, self-recriminating but at the core passionately tender. The surprise was Emma Yong, whose Mary Warren stole the show from meatier Abigail Williams. Yong lent a refreshingly round portrayal of Mary, and it was heartbreaking to see her vacillate between right and wrong. The cast's convicted delivery pressed home notions of intrinsic goodness, the power and abuse of the law, the effect of dominant values and practises on the marginalised and so on.

The Deliberation of these issues was unfortunately frustrated by - permit me to privilege a term - the Low Class Audience (LCA). One too many who comprised the Chinese secondary school crowd either brazenly 'forgot' to switch-off their mobile phones and pagers, or whistled in imitation to the offensive rings and beeps. What really earns this bunch the LCA tag, however, is their telling predisposition to cheap humour. Let me dwell on one example: Giles Corey's entrance elicited hysterical laughter. The joke's really on these sad, blinkered youths.

The Final Verdict is hardly surprising: after truth is withheld, delayed, misrepresented and finally disregarded, Salem becomes hell. Because they refuse to confess to a lie, John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse are sent to the gibbet, fit punishment for colluding with the Devil. The final set change situates three crosses. Perhaps the third is for truth itself. As a mirror to Miller's transcendentally hopeful ending, the crosses seem to suggest that the grave will somehow be denied.