Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
John Proctor Is the Villain
John Proctor Is the Villain, receiving its world premiere in the Mead Theater at Washington's Studio Theatre, takes a sharp and entertaining look at modern high school students and how they–influenced by their own experiences–comprehend two earlier eras: the 1690s in Salem, Massachusetts, and the 1950s McCarthyism that inspired Miller to write his play. Playwright Kimberly Belflower sets out the conflicts and mixed messages and, most importantly, provides opportunities for all nine characters to share their viewpoints.
Director Marti Lyons keeps the sometimes crowded action moving smoothly, helping the mostly youthful cast members find their voices in a play about who gets heard and believed and whose concerns are too often ignored or stifled.
The play takes place in 2018 in what Belflower calls "a one-stoplight town in northeast Georgia," similar to where she grew up. It begins with Carter Smith (Dave Register), the warm and approachable high school English teacher, presenting a rudimentary sex education lesson to his junior honors class–because of budget cutbacks, he explains, all the teachers all have to pitch in–before introducing The Crucible to his students.
Except for Nell (Deidre Staples), whose family recently moved from Atlanta, everyone in class has grown up together. There's take-charge Beth (Miranda Rizzolo), who wants to explore the roles of women in society as well as in the classroom; bubbly Ivy (Resa Mishina); Raelynn (Jordan Slattery), a minister's daughter; Shelby (Juliana Sass), back in school after a mysterious absence; Lee (Zachary Keller), caught romantically between two of the girls; and Mason (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio), who seems to be on autopilot most of the time. School counselor Bailey Gallagher (Lida Maria Benson) provides support to the students, specifically with Beth's attempt to launch a "Feminism Club."
Belflower's writing both builds tension and allows the characters to develop, with moments where giddy joy (the girls occasionally break into popular songs) bleed into difficult situations where what's true to one person may not be to another. The younger cast members especially form a solid ensemble, with Sass getting the most dramatic individual moments.
Luciana Stecconi's scenic design captures the ways a teacher may brighten up a bland educational space–inspirational posters above the whiteboard, institutional blue walls–while Moyenda Kulemeka has designed character-revealing costumes.
John Proctor Is the Villain runs through June 5, 2022, in the Mead Theatre at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-332-3300 or visit www.studiotheatre.org.
By Kimberly Belflower
Carter Smith: Dave Register