Ivo van Hove’s Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s 1953 Salem witch trial drama/political allegory “The Crucible” is so bewildering that I hardly know where to start. That being said, the production is, more often than not, absorbing and blazing with intensity.
The colorblind casting and contemporary dress code are perfectly fine. In fact, they emphasize just how relevant the play — with its brutal depictions of mass hysteria, religious extremism, sex scandal and personal vendetta among a Puritan community in 1692 Massachusetts — remains today.
But why is an industrial set design that evokes a classroom used? Why is eerie music (by Philip Glass) played persistently under the dialogue? Why does a wolf (well, technically a dog that resembles a wolf) make a cameo appearance?
More importantly, why does one of the young girls levitate in the air at one point? Why does the set fall apart at a climactic moment? Is van Hove suggesting that the girls really do have supernatural abilities? Or, more likely, is this all just striking but overblown and overindulgent imagery?
Van Hove, who also directed the recent Broadway revival of Miller’s “A View from the Bridge,” is an unapologetically avant-garde artist. His experimental, otherworldly approach is ill-suited to mid-century realistic American drama but can nevertheless be electrifying.
Perhaps due to his international renown, van Hove was able to bring together an accomplished and diverse cast that includes Ben Whishaw (John Proctor), Sophie Okonedo (Elizabeth Proctor), Saoirse Ronan (Abigail Williams), Ciaran Hinds (Danforth), Bill Camp (John Hale), Jim Norton (Giles Corey), Tavi Gevinson (Mary Warren) and Jason Butler Harner (Rev. Parris).
These are all great actors, but they achieve uneven results in this twisted environment. Whishaw comes across as too weak and lacks chemistry with the fully aggressive Okonedo. Ronan and Hinds are so assured and terrifying in the predator roles that it’s no surprise to see Camp and Harner looking so shaken up and helpless. Gevinson is strangely blank and ineffective.
“The Crucible” plays through July 17 at the Walter Kerr Theatre | 219 W. 48th St. | thecrucibleonbroadway.com