PROVIDENCE, RI — Trinity Repertory Company’s “The Good John Proctor,” an imagined prequel to classic Arthur Miller play, “The Crucible,” about the Salem witch trials, one of two plays opening its 2023-2024 season exploring that history, is a feel-bad show.
Despite some talented actors and capable direction, the play is a pointless, tedious, and utterly depressing experience. This show is compelling evidence for why stories do not need prequels.
Abigail (“Abby”) Williams (Deanna Myers) and her best friend Betty (Rebecca-Anne Whittaker) are first seen sharing a blanket. They trade gossip about their fellow townspeople and talk about their work on a farm.
Their friend Mercy (Lori Vega) enthralls them with a story about sisters who were brutalized after being possessed by a witch. Mercy describes acts of violence with extremely vulgar terminology. She seems more amused than disturbed when detailing the misfortunes of others.
“There is wickedness everywhere,” Mercy tells the girls.
I should note that Abby is a 12 year old girl. Betty is 10. Mercy is 14.
Later, Abby is befriended by Mary Warren, who encourages her to go off exploring in the woods.
One day, Abby shows up with mysterious red marks on her neck. After Abby, Betty, and Mary go for a midnight swim, Abby bleeds. The girls all writhe on the ground. Are they possessed by Satan?
“Everybody hates me. I’m evil,” Abby screams. Someone needs to find an exorcist for this girl. Or maybe a psychiatrist?
Playwright Talene Monahon forces these girls into the most unpleasant situations, which would not be a problem if the story actually led somewhere. It does not. Events are inserted for shock value, nothing more.
For example, Betty discusses her mother’s miscarriage in gruesome bloody detail. One horrific scene features a deranged Abby shoving Mercy to the floor, before trying to choke her to death. Who needs to see this?
The title of the show doesn’t even make sense. John Proctor is never seen and is only mentioned a few times. In real life, Proctor was hung after being suspected of witchcraft.
At the end of the show, the girls lament the “25 innocent people” who died unnecessarily after being accused of being witches.
“There was an evil all around us,” Mercy notes.
That may have been true, but we never see the people whose lives were destroyed. Monahon violates a basic storytelling principle: “show, don’t tell.”
Hearing about the innocent lives lost due to false accusations has no dramatic impact at all. It simply rings hollow.
Under the direction of Kimberly Senior, the four actresses deliver vibrant performances. Myers and Whittaker are believable and work well in their scenes together. Abby and Betty’s friendship feels real as the girls undergo the worst of life’s traumas.
Vega provides Mercy with a real spark of personality as she warns of the evil forces invading Salem.
Mary Mullane, filling in for Rachael Warren, was charismatic as the wayward Mary. However, her climactic monologue is wildly nonsensical. Something about transforming herself into a mosquito and flying above the courtroom?
If Trinity Rep. wanted to explore the Salem witch trials, then they surely would’ve been better off with “The Crucible.” The real story is told in that play.
In comparison, “The Good John Proctor” tells us nothing and leaves us with nothing. It’s a feel-bad show consisting of two hours of bloodshed and misery.
The Good John Proctor runs in rotating repertory with Becky Nurse of Salem through November 12. Tickets are on sale by phone at (401) 351- 4242, online at www.trinityrep.com/john, and in-person at the theater’s ticket office at 201 Washington Street, Providence.
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