Enough already with The Crucible. Arthur Miller’s 1953 play about the Salem witch trials is as omnipresent in San Diego this fall as our sticky weather. It’s the backdrop for La Jolla Playhouse’s Kingdom City, in which a group of high school teenagers putting on the play begin to act out like Miller’s characters. Now it’s getting a sequel-of-sorts at Moxie Theatre, where two of The Crucible’s principal figures, Abigail and Mercy, are seen 10 years after the witch trials in Liz Duffy Adams’ A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World. But regardless of what you think about The Crucible, Moxie’s 10th-season-opening production, like Kingdom City, rises and falls on its own merits.
A Discourse … is a period piece with director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg’s cast in circa-1700 costumes (nicely designed by Jennifer Brawn Gittings). The setting is a New England tavern run with full military vigor by Mercy Lewis (Wendy Waddell), who 10 years earlier had cried “Witch!”, thereby bringing about numerous executions. A surprise visitor to her door is fellow former “witch hunter” Abigail Williams (Jo Anne Glover), who has been off seeing the world and, more profoundly, seeing the tragic wrong in her and Mercy’s fatal indictments. Mercy doesn’t want to hear it. Nor does blowhard Reverend Peck (Nick Young), hick farmer Judah (Christopher Murphy) and tavern girl Rebekkah (Olivia Hicks), who embark upon a kangaroo court to convict Abigail as a witch herself. Into the fray comes an imposing stranger in black (Jorge Rodriguez), who all (perhaps even Abigail) believe is Satan himself.
The impromptu trial is awkward and stagey, rescued by “Satan’s” pre-intermission pyrotechnics. In Act 2, when Abigail and the stranger are alone on the tavern roof, the play’s bombastic tenor abates and the revelations about worlds visible and invisible, and about what real atrocity the witch trials are covering for, become clear. Glover and Rodriguez unearth these discoveries thoughtfully and tenderly. The play as a whole, however, flirts with comedy and melodrama in equal measure before settling, so it seems, for pensive discourse. Its spirited cast aside, it could benefit from another draft.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat