Dowling’s ‘Crucible’ at the Guthrie: like he’s been waiting his whole life to direct it

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Stephen Yoakam (Deputy-Governor Danforth), Nathanial Fuller (Ezekiel Cheever), Erik Heger (John Proctor), Bill McCallum (Rev. Samuel Parris) and Tyson Forbes (Marshal Herrick) in the Guthrie Theater's production of “The Crucible.”

For his penultimate play as the Guthrie’s artistic director, Joe Dowling has delivered a fierce and terrifying production of Arthur Miller’s drama “The Crucible.” Written in 1953 at the height of McCarthyism, set in Salem, Mass. in 1692 during the witch trials, it’s a play for all times, notably those ruled by fear, dogma, vengeance and greed.

Miller called the Salem trials “one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history.” In 1956, as “The Crucible” was about to open in Belgium, he was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and asked to name names. He refused.

Dowling first read “The Crucible” more than 50 years ago, as a young teen in Dublin. He read through it, then read it again, this time out loud, speaking and acting every part. His hand on the Guthrie’s new production is so sure it’s hard to imagine seeing it another way. From the first wild scene in the woods at night to the last on a gallows morning, it feels as if Dowling has been waiting his whole life to direct it.

We saw “The Crucible” midweek with a nearly full house. Three hours (with one intermission) sped by. At times, the audience gasped and even cried out. The cast is strong and convincing; standouts are Eric Heger’s John Proctor, Michelle O’Neill as his wife, Elizabeth, Peter Michael Goetz as Giles Corey, Bill McCallum’s Rev. Parris, John Catron’s Rev. Hale, Wendy Lehr’s Rebecca Nurse, Ashley Rose Montondo’s Mary and Stephen Yoakam’s self-righteous, supercilious Deputy-Governor Danforth.

Richard Hoover’s set design (leafless trees that crowd the stage, then rise to hang above it), Scott Edwards’ sound design (with some sounds more felt than heard) and Jane Greenwood’s costumes (the prim white hats and Puritan collars, the judge’s blood-red robes) support Miller’s solemn, poetic language. Carl Flink directed the movement with the imagination and physicality we see in his company, Black Label Movement. 

“The Crucible” ends May 24. You probably shouldn’t miss it. FMI and tickets.

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Joe Dowling leaves for New York after directing his final play at the Guthrie, Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock” (May 23-June 28). After that, the shows go on under new artistic director Joseph Haj.

For the Guthrie’s 2015-16 season, announced yesterday, Haj makes his directorial debut with Shakespeare’s “Pericles,” an acclaimed production he created for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Jan. 16-Feb. 21, 2016). He closes out the season on the thrust stage with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” (June 18-Aug. 28).

Also on the thrust stage: “To Kill a Mockingbird,” based on the novel by Harper Lee, directed by John Miller-Stephany (Sept. 12-Oct. 18, 2015) and “Harvey,” the one about the invisible rabbit, by Mary Chase (April 9-May 15, 2016).

On the proscenium stage: “The Events,” Scottish playwright David Greig’s response to the horrific 2011 Norway attacks (Sept. 30-Nov. 1, 2015); “The Cocoanuts,” the Marx Bros. romp with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, directed by David Ivers (Nov. 14-Jan. 3); two one-act comedies, Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound” and Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Richard Sheridan’s “The Critic,” both directed by Tony nominee Michael Kahn (Feb. 23-Mar. 27, 2016); “Trouble in Mind” by Alice Childress, dubbed “one of the best plays about racism ever written” (May 7-June 5); and the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Disgraced” by Ayad Akhtar (July 16-Aug. 28).

And, of course, “A Christmas Carol” (Nov. 12-Dec. 27), which Joe Chvala will direct for the fourth year in a row.

The new Dowling Studio season will be announced later.

Subscriptions go on sale June 19. Single tickets to selected shows go on sale Aug. 3.

The picks

Now at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: “Art in Bloom.” This annual event is a lovely way to experience our great art museum. With thousands of fresh flowers in more than 160 displays inspired by works of art, it signals that spring is really, truly here. Wander the galleries and attend an event or two. As of this writing, tickets are still available to Friday’s 1 p.m. lecture by Debra Prinzing, author of “Slow Flowers,” and Saturday’s 2 p.m. talk by U of M bee expert Dr. Marla Spivak. Free 45-minute docent-led tours of the floral displays are offered each day. Saturday is Family Day (10:30 a.m. – 1 :30 p.m.), with free activities and a 1 p.m. performance by the Cordova String Quartet. Here’s the daily schedule.

Courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
A scene from 2014’s Art in Bloom

Tonight (Thursday, April 30) at Common Good Books: Benjamin Percy reads from “The Dead Lands.” The Northfield writer’s latest novel sets the Lewis and Clark saga in a post-apocalyptic world. In Stephen King’s words, “Good God, what a tale.” Percy is also the author of “Red Moon,” a werewolf novel, and “The Wilding,” a literary thriller that brought comparisons to “Deliverance.” And he’s writing “Green Hornet” comic books. 7 p.m. Free.

Tonight at Rondo Community Outreach Library: Untold Stories Labor History Series: “Running the Rails.” A short film and panel discussion about local African American railroad workers — sleeping car porters, red cap porters, dining car waiters, matrons, cooks and maids — who laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights movement. Presented by the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library. 7 p.m. Free.

The weekend

Friday at Orchestra Hall: Minnesota Orchestra: American Voices: Bernstein and Copland. Two American classics, a world premiere and the reprise of a crowdfunded microcommission. Burt Hara, the Orchestra’s principal clarinet from 1987-2013, returns to solo in Copland’s “Clarinet Concerto.” The orchestra performs Bernstein’s “Divertimento” and Judd Greenstein’s “Acadia,” which premiered here in 2012 and was funded by hundreds of orchestra supporters. And trumpeter Charles Lazarus is the featured soloist in Steve Heitzeg’s “American Nomad,” heard here for the first time, commissioned by Minnesota Orchestra board member Paul Grangaard. Mischa Santora conducts. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30-$69).

Photo by Erik Saulitis
Shohei Iwahama in “Silk Road”

Friday-Sunday at the Cowles: James Sewell Ballet. Sewell and his company toured the country with “Silk Road,” set to music by cellist Yo Yo Ma, and we’re finally getting a chance to see it here. The program also includes “Into the Spin,” with music and lyrics by Minneapolis rapper Dessa, and a restaging of Norbert de la Cruz III’s “Dusty Realm.” 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($20-$36). Friday’s performance is followed by a post-show discussion. These are always illuminating.

Sunday at Colonial Church: Burt Hara and Friends. In addition to playing with the Minnesota Orchestra on Friday, Hara will perform with members of the orchestra in the Colonial Chamber Series, where the program includes Richard Strauss’s “Till Eulenspiegel” and Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20. FMI and tickets ($20).

Sunday at Augustana Lutheran Church: Mississippi Valley Orchestra: “Metamorphosis, Apotheosis, Let It Swing!” Henry Charles Smith leads the orchestra in Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Cellos featuring the Minnesota Orchestra’s Tony Ross and Beth Rapier, plus Fauré’s “Elegy,” Poulenc’s “Gloria” and Hindemith’s “Symphonic Metamorphosis.” 4 p.m. Free-will offering. Here’s a profile of Smith, in case you missed it earlier this week.

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