Theatre review of Theatre Calgary's The Crucible; October 13 - November 8, 2015 at Max Bell Theatre, Arts Commons in Calgary, AB.

Theatre Calgary’s The Crucible is disturbingly compelling 

Local actor Karl H. Sine delivers the performance of a lifetime in a bone-chilling theatrical masterpiece that hits uncomfortably close to home. 

If you are someone who has fought for equality at some point in your life, or if you have empathized with someone who has, then you will be able to identify with Theatre Calgary’s stunning production of The Crucible.

Written by acclaimed playwright, Arthur Miller, The Crucible originally opened on Broadway in 1952 and won the Tony Award for Best Play. The story is set in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and follows a community that self-destructs following a sudden outbreak of witchcraft accusations made by a group of teenage girls. What’s deeply disturbing is how large an impact the actions of a handful of kids can have on the lives of so many individuals, and how dead set the town’s authority figures are in adhering to their traditional beliefs, no matter how tragic the consequences may be.


During the actual events of the Salem witch trials, of the 2,000 individuals accused, many were those who lived on the margins of society, whether due to their status, age, mental health or ethnicity. How ironic then, that in The Crucible, one of the first people accused is a black woman, as she is considered an easy target. The group of teenage accusers then go on to add anyone they dislike to their list of “witches”, trusting that their one-sided legal system will snuff out the accused. It also comes as no surprise that the majority of the witch trials victims are women, as the female sex was considered inferior by the Puritan community, and a woman accused had meager chances of defending herself. 

The remarkably talented cast offers brilliant performances and is led by three outstanding actors: Karl H. Sine, Vanessa Sabouring and Claire Armstrong. Calgary actor Sine delivers the performance of a lifetime in his role as John Proctor, a hardworking farmer, who along with his wife Elizabeth, fall victim to the town’s witch hunt. Sine brilliantly master’s Miller’s challenging text with heart and conviction and his performance serves as the backbone of this strong production.

Karl H. Sine (left) delivers the performance of a lifetime in the role of John Proctor. Photo courtesy of Trudie Lee.

As John Proctor’s dutiful wife, Elizabeth, Sabourin delivers an equally stunning performance. Her character’s calm collectiveness and unwavering faithfulness to her integrity is very moving. Sine and Sabourin bring their characters to life superbly, and the result is truly poignant and inspiring.

Sine (centre) and Vanessa Sabourin (second from right), are extremely moving as a farm couple torn apart by salem's witch trials. Photo courtesy of Trudie Lee.

Sine and Sabourin are joined by Dora Award winner Armstrong, who plays the town’s resident mean girl, Abigail Williams. Armstrong’s character is literally pure evil and serves as the fuel that ignites the town’s eruption into madness. Armstrong does not disappoint. Her cold-hearted, manipulative portrayal of Abigail is so disturbing, it gave me chills.

Terence Kelly also shines as Giles Corey, an elderly farm assistant who, along with his wife, get hit hard during the witch trials, but refuses to go down without a fight. Kelly’s portrayal of Giles is loveable and a delight to watch when he delivers the play’s rare moments of comic relief. Graham Mothersill also delivers a noteworthy performance as Salem’s young reverend, who must wrestle with his duty to the town’s religious beliefs and what he sees firsthand.

R.H. Thomson has done an exceptional job directing The Crucible. One of the ways Thomson creatively builds tension in the play is through his idea of having the cast collectively build a large barn-like set throughout the show, symbolizing the increasing mounting of fear within the town. The true magnitude of the set isn’t complete until the end of the play, when the show’s intensity climaxes. The outstanding onstage performances of all 19 cast members, along with Thomson’s direction and the other strong production values of the show (led by Cameron Porteous, set design; Deitra Kalyn, costume design; and Kevin Lamotte, lighting design) is first-rate theatre indeed.

The barn-like set continues to build throughout the show, matching the rising intensity and fear within the town. Photo courtesy of Trude Lee.

One of the things I found ironic in the show is the use of logic by the town’s authority figures when passing judgment. The characters go to extraordinary lengths to twist their logic to suit their needs. This manipulation of sound reasoning has been seen throughout history and The Crucible brings to light how frighteningly effective fearmongering can be in shaping public perception.

People of colour, the LGBTQ community, and those who have been persecuted for their religious beliefs are just a few examples of people who historically had to fight uphill battles for basic rights. Twisting of reason and logic were prime weapons used against them, and it goes without saying that there have been some very sad moments in history when innocent lives were destroyed.

At the end of the play, a chorus of creepy girlish giggles echo in the dimming light, emphasizing the horrors we have just witnessed onstage and serving as a haunting warning. The Crucible reminds us of times when select groups of individuals were able to unleash great evil in society, with society’s permission, as a result of striking fear and propaganda into the hearts of people. The Crucible is powerfully compelling and will stay in your thoughts long after you leave the theatre. 

The Crucible, presented by Theatre Calgary, runs until November 8.