'The Crucible' shows what's best about community theater

“The Crucible”

Presented by Appleseed Productions.

Location Atonement Lutheran Church, 116 West Glen Avenue, Syracuse

When October 21 – November 5

Runtime 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission

Tickets Adults, $18; Students/seniors, $15. Group rates available.

Good to know Plenty of parking; complimentary dessert and coffee.

Review By Leah Stacy

Appleseed Productions has been a fixture in Syracuse theater circles for 19 seasons, a weighty number for any non-profit, let alone a theater company that relies on less than six shows per year and the generosity of donors.

But attend one of their productions and it's clear why they remain successful. Appleseed Productions represents everything that's right about community theater: the 'community' part.

'The Crucible' takes place in the basement of a church annex. Approximately 40 people gathered for opening night, all of them chattering quietly about the friend, sister, or co-worker they'd come to support. A dinner theater-like atmosphere, with seating at round tables, encouraged the audience to create their own community with those at their table. Coffee, tea and water on each table made it feel more like a church dinner and less like a play -- it was comfortable, and welcoming.

Community theater thrives because of an eclectic smattering of cast members. Lifetime friendships are often forged between those who dream of the spotlight but can't leave daily life for Broadway. They work full time jobs and attend high school or college. They have families, friends and significant others.

One woman shared it was her 60-year-old husband's first time on stage. In his program biography, he said it 'was now or never to act.' The cast also featured a lawyer, a writer, an engineer and a sixth grader.

And it was this brave group of community members took on Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible,' a retelling of the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts, circa 1692-93.

It's a script that would terrify most actors with its power and prestigious reputation. Miller wrote the play in 1952 as an answer to McCarthyism, which was sweeping through the United States as the government blacklisted supposed communists. Since 'The Crucible' opened, it's won a Tony award, opened on Broadway with Liam Neeson in the title role and premiered as a film twice ( the famous 1996 version starred Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis).

There's no small role here, no character the show could do without. Miller is a master of words and precision - every character in the show has a powerful quote or monologue. Director Dan Tursi's staging paired with the dialogue to keep a delicate, throbbing tension throughout the play. If a step was taken or a back turned to the audience, there was a reason.

Notable performances came from first time actor Tim Bennett (Giles Corey), who elicited most of the crowd's laughter; Kathleen Kennedy (Abigail Williams), a Nottingham High School senior who portrayed both temptress and child in her role; Jeremiah Thompson (Reverend Samuel Parris), who has the looks of Conan O'Brien and an impressive emotional range; Serika M. Jones (Tituba) whose flawless accent legitimized superstitions against her; and Darian Sundberg (John Proctor), who grew throughout the show's two hours from a beaten adulterer to a strong, resolute martyr.

Not to be overlooked are the dessert sponsors Phyllis and David Rodgers, who made moist, delicious cakes for intermission; Kevin Oliver, for his minimalistic, versatile set; and Dan Randall for his dramatic lighting.

Appleseed Productions should be applauded for their use of community theater done right to show how a community like Salem can go very, very wrong.