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Dreams & Nightmares on Local Stages

Abbey Campbell plays the tortured Abigail Williams in "The Crucible" at STC
The Crucible

One of the darkest days of America came before it was even a country, just a string of colonies. Accusations, lies and hysteria resulted in lives lost, reputations ruined and families destroyed.  People who came here for religious freedom enforced their version of belief on everyone. The Massachusetts madness that is known as the Salem Witch Trials seemed to exemplify the worst that we could be.

The trials took place in 1692 and ’93, and more than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft. At least 20 were executed.

In 1950, a U.S. Senator named Joseph McCarthy led a new witch hunt, this one aimed at communism. He claimed that numerous Communists, Soviet spies and sympathizers had planted themselves within the United States government, schools of higher education and the movie industry. He “had a list” of them, he said. Hollywood was especially hard hit, as actors, writers and directors were accused and hauled before his Senate committee in hearings. Many lost their ability to work in movies, blacklisted.

It is against this backdrop that playwright Arthur Miller in 1953 wrote “The Crucible,” a play that used the Salem Witch Trials as an allegory for what was going on in Washington at the time. In 1956, Miller himself was called before the House  of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956 and convicted of contempt of Congress. Sacramento Theatre Company is presenting an impressive production of this classic of American theater through Sunday.

The Crucible” begins with a group of young girls discovered dancing (which was forbidden by the Puritan religion) in the woods. The presence of a black slave thought to practice magic makes it easy to believe the girls have been bewitched. Accusations of witchcraft spread, news of an illicit affair between a community member and one of the girls results in a spreading controversy, resulting in the hanging of citizens of Salem who were mostly innocents.

The adult members of this production are fine, but the strongest performances are delivered by the younger actors, most of them graduates or current students of STC’s Young Professional Conservatory. Abbey Campbell, who plays Abigail Williams is especially effective.

Sacramento Theatre Company is at 1419 H St. Final performances are at 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. General admission tickets are $31, with discounts for seniors and students. On Saturday, tickets for either the matinee or evening show are available for $20 by calling the box office at (916) 443-6722 and mentioning the code #honoryourtruth. More info and tickets at sactheatre.org.

An Immigrant’s Story

B Street’s current production, continuing through Oct. 28, is “Ironbound” by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Martyna Mayjok about a Polish immigrant who finds the American Dream isn’t as easily achieved as she had hoped. Dana Brooke delivers an amazing performance as immigrant Darja, through several years and relationships in the depressed — and growing more depressing — New Jersey town.

“Ironbound” is surprisingly humorous, a darkly funny look at a character who believed that America offered her life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Like many, she forgot about “the pursuit of” and concentrated on the happiness, which continually escaped her. As the factory where she worked closes and husbands and relationships failed, Darja sinks lower and lower — both emotionally and financially. Her hopes of finding love and financial security seem unatainable.

Brooke’s Meryl Streep-worthy accent and strength of character is reason enough to see the play, but there is fine supporting  work from the male actors: Arusi Santi, as Maks, her first love; Peter Story, as her current lover, Tommy; and Sam Kebede, as Vic, an unsuspecting stranger who encounters Darja sleeping at a bus stop late and night and shows her immediate compassion and aid.

Performances of “Ironbound” continue at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, 2 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 28. Tickets are $33-$47. B Street Theatre is in the Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts, 2700 Capitol Ave. For tickets or for more information, call (916) 443-5300 or go to bstreettheatre.org.

Photo by Charr Crail Photography

About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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