Review: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible Proves Both Historic and Prescient at Invictus Theatre

Religious and moral hypocrisy is a constant theme in the timeline of American history. There must always be an enemy or a caste created in order to feel superiority. Arthur Miller took the theocracy built by the Puritans as the basis for The Crucible to criticize the anti-Communist Red Scare politicians of mid-century America. Invictus Theatre’s production is a powerful reminder and a mirror held up to the direction to which some would have the country return.  

Invictus artistic director Charles Askenaizer helms a brilliant cast of veteran Chicago actors in the tale of frenzy created by superstition and blind faith. When the house opens, the actors are already on the set of a Puritan church. The stage is lit in violet hues and a soft hymn is being sung by the cast. The funerary quiet is replaced by a circle of young White women led by the Barbadian slave Tituba (LaTorious R. Givens) in a sensuous and unseemly dance around a cauldron. This is what ignites a maelstrom of accusations of witchcraft and demonic visions.

Mark Pracht and Devon Carson. Photo by Through Line Studios.

Joseph Beal plays the sanctimonious Reverend Parris who sermonizes more about his salary than the virtues of being godly. The character of Parris stirs up fear and terror and is also darkly comic in demanding that his meager salary cannot sustain a man of his stature. “What are we—Quakers?” he exclaims. The farmers of Salem include Giles Corey played by the glorious Frank Nall who I reviewed in Malapert Love. Nall has serious comic chops that give an edge to his portrayal of a farmer who looks upon Parris with a gimlet eye and disdain for the governors and judges that would condemn him and his family in order to take his land.

The entire cast is composed of standout performances. Barbara Roeder Harris as Rebecca Nurse is wonderful as the woman who refuses to give up her principles. Roeder Harris was in Rasheeda Speaking as a marvelously dotty patient. Ellie Duffey makes her professional Chicago debut in the role of Mary Warren. She is one to watch giving a visceral performance as the girl who breaks rank with the others in the circle in the woods

Mark Pracht and Devon Carson have palpable chemistry as John and Elizabeth Proctor. Their scene in the cabin is a study of naturalism. Their cabin and meager furnishings portray a moral life more than a facade of piety. John Proctor’s infidelity leaves him wracked with guilt and remorse. Carson digs in as the stoic wife who says that forgiveness is not hers to give to her adulterous spouse.

L-R Leah Grace Biwer, Freya Trefonides, Lexy Weixel, Michaela Voit, James Turano, Brandon Boler, Ellie Duffey, and Charlie Diaz. Photo by Through Line Studios.

Charlie Diaz plays the journey of Reverend John Hale with tenderness showing his character to be a true believer. His character’s trajectory as a pious expert with book learning to a man who sees the sacred in every human is done beautifully. It was a delight to see the fabulous James Turano as Deputy Governor John Danforth. Turano was a tornado of rage as George in the Invictus production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. He brings a different type of rage to his Danforth character who substitutes crushing authority for a repressed and possibly compromised carnality. Zach Bloomfield gives a journeyman’s performance as Judge Hathorne. He is the comic foil to Turano’s Danforth

Michaela Voit is a force to be watched if her performance as seductress Abigail Williams is any indication. Voit puts fire into Abigail with her eyes flashing in lust and anger from John Proctor’s rejection. She and Erin Allison Stewart as Mercy Lewis with Ellie Duffy and Lea Grace Bower personify the precursors to those that would incite the fear of Communism in the 1950s.

 The production crew of The Crucible is to be lauded. Chad Lussier’s lighting design elevates the eerie mood and the hellish torture of the condemned. Kevin Rolf’s set design is impeccable. The structures exemplify the hand-hewn simplicity of life in the 1600s. Petter Walbäch’s sound design of music and accusatory whispers fill the theater. The costume design by Jessie Gowens is a meticulously accurate melange of parson coats, demure dresses, and the ragged attire of the condemned. 

The Crucible illustrates the same hysteria that lives on in American society about what is moral and right. Whether it is Communism in the post-war years or the atavism of 21st-century politics, Miller’s work gives voice to the struggle to maintain the freedom that America is supposedly built on. Charles Askenaizer has produced and directed a jewel in the canon of American theater. I highly recommend that you see this production.

The Crucible by Invictus Theatre runs three hours with one 15-minute intermission. Performances are through June 11 at the Reginald Vaughn Theater, 1106 W. Thorndale in the Edgewater neighborhood. Visit for tickets and more information.

For more information on this and other productions, see

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Kathy D. Hey
Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.