The Crucible — An allegory for the post-World War II "Red Scare," this play had a very personal genesis. Playwright Arthur Miller had been subjected to grilling by the vile House Un-American Activities Committee and cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to name fellow writers who had attended a communist meeting years before. The Crucible turns that political witch hunt into a literal one, as a number of girls in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, band together and start declaring that there are witches in their midst. This admirable production throws all the emphasis on the actors and Miller's words, since the set design by Narelle Sissons is almost painfully plain. The talented Great Lakes company, under the direction of Drew Barr, brings Miller's words to life with compelling power. Andrew May, raging and helpless as John Proctor, and a quiet Laura Perrotta, as his wife, make the confusion and desperation of this quite ordinary couple visceral and vivid. At over three hours with intermission, The Crucible is no lighthearted romp. But the second-act trial puts any TV courtroom drama to shame. Innocent people writhe on the spiny point of mass hysteria as a mindless spasm of fear swiftly devastates their lives. Through April 27, produced by the Great Lakes Theater Festival at the Ohio Theatre, Playhouse Square Center, 1511 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000. — Christine Howey
The King and I — Rodgers and Hammerstein's story of the Welsh widow contracted by the king of Siam to teach his gaggle of children — from a harem of obedient wives — is well known. And the songs, such as "Hello, Young Lovers," "Getting to Know You," and "I Have Dreamed," are dazzling creations that work in any time or place. Here, Jennifer Hughes brings a quiet resolve and occasionally fiery spirit to the role of schoolteacher Anna. Her singing voice, a soprano that is slightly more muscular than lyrical, delivers the goods as she slowly softens the king's sharp edges. As the ruler, Francis Jue is a slight fellow, and although he gets plenty steamed at times, some of the nuances of the king's character are not clearly drawn. Director Stephen Bourneuf maneuvers the large cast (approaching 50) with grace on the immense Carousel stage, and there are enough Asian actors to make the entire Siamese locale feel genuine. Also, costume designer Dale DiBernardo and scenic designer Robert A. Kovach spare no horsepower in making the show a treat to look at. But perhaps the most indelible sequence is the ballet done around the saga of "The Small House of Uncle Thomas." This Siamese version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, featuring Asian blackface and choreographed in Eastern style by Vince Pesce (with a lot of help from Jerome Robbins' original blueprint), is totally enthralling. Through April 26 at the Carousel Dinner Theater, 1275 E. Waterloo Rd., Akron, 800-362-4100. — Howey
Pride and Prejudice — In this brisk adaptation by James Maxwell, as revised by Alan Stanford, the hate-love match between Elizabeth and Darcy flashes with sexual tension. As each slowly overcomes prejudicial feelings about the other, they find themselves drawn together, much to the surprise of family and friends. Of course, lots of the frivolity comes from the Bennet clan, which features four more sisters, ranging from the dour Mary (Cassandra Bissell) to the flighty Lydia (a girlishly obnoxious Roni Geva). Overseeing this tidal wave of estrogen is Dad, played with exquisitely timed sarcastic precision by Bill McGough. His counterpart, the preternaturally hysterical Mrs. Bennet, is given a broad and at times distracting turn by Judith Day. As the central couple, Chaon Cross and Jason Bradley make an ideal Lizzy-Darcy pairing. Cross has just the right balance of pre-feminist gumption and incisive humor, handling her double role as Elizabeth, who is both narrator and character, seamlessly. Bradley is stiff-backed and haughty as Darcy, until he sees past the Bennet family's relatively low social status and discovers his soul mate. Helping frame the production is a dazzlingly effective set design by Robert Koharchik, with a large turntable rotating scenes into place. A massive mahogany proscenium, surrounding painterly visuals of the English countryside, creates a stately atmosphere without ever becoming stuffy. Through April 13 at the Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, 216-795-7000. — Howey
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