The Crucible, Simple Theater, at Northwestern University Settlement House, Vittum Theater. Arthur Miller’s 1953 account of the Salem witch trials is an allegory for the McCarthy hearings. But even a half century later, the phenomenon of an uneasy population scapegoating its fringe dwellers is sadly familiar. We may like to think ourselves more sophisticated in 2001, but unfortunately The Crucible still speaks to us.

Granted, it speaks for a staggering four acts stuffed with polemics. But Simple Theater director Laura Forbes has assembled a cast who never allow their energy to flag or their concentration to waver, maintaining subtextual focus down to the smallest role. This new company–an adjunct of the Northwestern University Settlement House outreach program–is a multiethnic bunch with varying levels of expertise, from Ron Mark’s hallelujah-chorus performance as the zealous Governor Danforth to the students playing the teenage “victims” of the supposed witches, cowed by a sullen leader whose spiteful revenge on her lover sparks the wholesale execution of innocents.

The show’s technical elements are undeniably spare. But what the Simple Theater lacks in professional panache it more than makes up for in intelligent exploration of issues especially relevant now that new technology facilitates the even swifter spread of disinformation.

–Mary Shen Barnidge