"I have given you my soul. Why must you have my name?"
The searing plea by John Proctor in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" cries out on behalf of victims whose names were named. Miller dramatized events surrounding the 1692-93 Salem witch trials as an analogy for Sen. Joseph McCarthy's Communist witch-hunt -- still destroying lives as the play premiered on Broadway in 1953.
This is ancient history to students today. That's reason enough for Bay Street Theatre to select "The Crucible" as its Literature Live! education-outreach project. In addition to weekday shows for students, evening performances continue this weekend and next. To qualify as an Actors Equity-
approved educational presentation, Miller's drama was edited down to a taut 90 minutes without intermission. Which brings up the best reason for seeing "The Crucible": director Murphy Davis' crackling cast of professionals delivers a knockout distillation of this masterpiece, framed by Gary Hygom's wooded set, hauntingly lit by Mike Billings and accessorized by Barbara Oldak's period costumes.
Gone are scenes of girls dancing in the forest and miscreants confessing during jailhouse interrogations. Dancing was a mortal sin to Massachusetts Puritans. So the girls, led by Abigail -- onetime housekeeper for John Proctor and his pregnant wife, Elizabeth -- concoct a tale of spells cast upon them by witches. The spineless Rev. Parris (Ken Forman) summons a witchcraft expert, played with a belated conscience by Peter Connolly, to sort out the deadly epidemic of accusation.
Abigail, an aggressively petulant Joanna Howard, was fired by Elizabeth Proctor after she discovered the teen's affair with John. When Elizabeth, severe as played by Chloe Dirksen, is accused of sorcery, her current housekeeper, Mary (Kate O'Phalen), who was among the girls caught dancing, confesses that their spells were feigned.
Will Mary's testimony save those condemned by charges of witchcraft? Or will John Proctor, powerfully enlisting our empathy as portrayed by Rob DiSario, be forced to confess his "lechery" in order to discredit Abigail? The deputy governor, played with demanding authority by Joel Leffert, presides over a trial designed to obtain confessions rather than reveal the truth. Good names, such as that of formerly unassailable Rebecca Nurse (Lisa Corey), posted on the church door are worth their weight in political gold.
Are the gallows a more honorable fate?
WHAT "The Crucible"
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday and Nov. 23, 2 and 7 p.m. Nov. 24, Bay Street Theatre, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor
TICKETS $20 ($10 ages 12 and younger) baystreet.org, 631-725-9500