KPFA theatre critic Richard Wolinsky reviews “Becky Nurse of Salem” at Berkeley Rep‘s Peets Theatre through January 26, 2020.
Text of review (audio is slightly different and has actuality from Sarah Ruhl)
The notion of witch hunt as metaphor comes from Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible,” which translated what happened in Salem in 1693 to the story of McCarthyism and those accused during the darkest days of the Red Scare in the late 1940s into the 1950’s.
But while “witch hunt” is a perfectly fine metaphor, if abused by the absurdity in the White House, the real witch hunt was something else again, part of a war against sexuality and particularly, a war against women – something Miller himself stayed away from in his famous play.
Playwright Sarah Ruhl tackles that aspect of the witch trials, and their contemporary meaning, in a crackling new play, “Becky Nurse of Salem,” which is enjoying its world premiere run at Berkeley Rep through January 26th.
Becky Nurse of Salem didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened because Sarah felt she had to write something about the times we live in.
And that got her thinking about Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
Sarah Ruhl had these two ideas. How, then, to put them together?
Becky Nurse is a complex character, not villain nor hero. Very smart, very astute and also very blind to what’s going on around her.
It’s a tough role, one that Pamela Reed takes and makes her own, a blindingly real person attempting to deal with the struggles of an out of work single woman raising a rebellious granddaughter with ideas of her own. But the entire cast takes Sarah Ruhl’s words and runs with them. The show is a brilliant tour de force by all concerned, convincingly directed by Anne Kaufman.
As a world premiere, the script could use tightening, mostly in the second act, and clarity over the time frame would probably be in order. But this is Sarah Ruhl at her finest, and most astute, and Becky Nurse of Salem is a brilliant play – thought-provoking, very funny, with something to chew on in nearly every single scene.
BeckyNurse of Salem by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Anne Kauffman, plays at Berkeley Rep’s Peets Theatre through January 26th. For more information you can go to Berkely rep. org. I’m Richard Wolinsky on Bay Area theatre for KPFA.