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The Good John Proctor

An attempt to write a prequel to Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" focusing exclusively on four of the girls who later accused Salem residents of being witches.

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Sharlene Cruz as Betty Parris, Susannah Perkins as Abigail Williams and Tavi Gevinson as Mercy Lewis in a scene from Bedlam’s production of Talene Monahon’s “The Good John Proctor” at the Connelly Theater (Photo credit: Ashley Garrett)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left”] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]

Bedlam’s second world premiere this season is Talene Monahon’s creative take on the events leading up to the Salem Witch Trial. As a prequel to Arthur Miller’s fictionalized The Crucible, the more historic The Good John Proctor narrows its focus to four of the girls who later implicated other residents as witches: 11-year-old Abigail Williams, her nine and a half year old cousin Betty Parris, 14-year-old Mercy Lewis and 18-year-old Mary Warren.

Unfortunately, Monahon’s play which takes its cues from Miller’s drama, assumes a thorough knowledge of The Crucible and leaves out a great deal of information that would make it easier to follow. For example, John Proctor’s name is never uttered by the girls even after Abigail goes to work for him and his wife in the play. Caitlin Sullivan’s direction is too tame by far so that the play is not very dramatic. The most exciting event, the trial itself, is left as an afterthought and narrated years later by one of the girls after her death.

Susannah Perkins as Abigail Williams in a scene from Bedlam’s production of Talene Monahon’s “The Good John Proctor” at the Connelly Theater (Photo credit: Ashley Garrett)

The problem with making adolescent girls from 1691 the heroines of a play is that we do not know enough about their lives or biographies and from Monahon’s depiction they had more of an active imagination than anything else. Taking her cues from Miller’s play, Monahon’s Abigail, an orphan come to live with her uncle, and cousin Betty who share a bed in the home of the Reverend Parris (who is also never mentioned) talk of flying, the local mysterious woods, blood, child birth, dolls (called poppets in those days) and sin. As typical of those times, they have been told nothing about menstruation which comes as a shock nor about how babies are born. Monahon’s Mercy Lewis is a teenage alcoholic and Mary Warren has epilepsy, both apparently orphans who have been put to work with cruel task masters in the village of Salem. As the play remains so low key in Sullivan’s direction, none of this is very interesting nor does Monahon come up with any revelations that would turn up the heat.

The quartet of actresses are believable but seem to be playing very sanitized versions of these characters, although as Miller’s play now appears to be mostly fictional it is hard to know what they should be like. (Historically, it appears that Abigail Williams and John Proctor never met until the trial; she was not 17 years old but 11 nor did she have an affair with him while working for his wife. Also nothing is known about Abigail’s life after the trial.)

Sharlene Cruz as Betty Parris in a scene from Bedlam’s production of Talene Monahon’s “The Good John Proctor” at the Connelly Theater (Photo credit: Ashley Garrett)

As per the author’s instruction these teenage and preteen girls are to be played by actresses older than 18 years which immediately creates a problem of credibility. As directed by Sullivan, Susannah Perkins’ Abigail is very rebellious and restless, while Sharlene Cruz’s younger cousin Betty is curious and inquisitive though not getting many answers. Tavi Gevinson is rather sour and bitter as the teenage alcoholic Mercy, in a performance she has given elsewhere. As the older Mary Warren, Brittany K. Allen is mystical and spiritual talking poetically of things the other girls do not understand.

The physical production is rather low intensity with a unit set by Cate McCrea which has to serve for the girls’ shared bedroom, the yard outside, and later the scary woods behind the Parris homestead. Isabella Byrd’s lighting is mostly dark without creating much mood. Considering the actresses are portraying Puritans who eschewed colors and adornments, the costumes by Phuong Nguyen are bland to the point of understatement with all white shifts and brown skirts, though most likely historically accurate.

Sharlene Cruz as Betty Parris and Brittany K. Allen as Mary Warren in a scene from Bedlam’s production of Talene Monahon’s “The Good John Proctor” at the Connelly Theater (Photo credit: Ashley Garrett)

While Talene Monahon’s The Good John Proctor improves on the historical accuracy of the story of the Salem girls, it demonstrates conclusively why Arthur Miller took dramatic license with the story. The cast does well with the roles as far as they go, but the play remains under heated and undramatic even if it sticks to the facts as known. We never learn anything about the good John Proctor – although that may be the point as very little is known which makes it difficult to dramatize.

The Good John Proctor (through April 1, 2023)

Bedlam

Connelly Theater, 220 E. 4th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.bedlam.org

Running time: one hour and 40 minutes without an intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (989 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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