What happens when hysteria sweeps away a society?

Crucible is a keystone in Arthur Miller's oeuvre along with the Death of A Salesman. While Death of A Salesman is about an epoch that can be easily grasped, Crucible belongs to a different era which is difficult to be placed in context.

The plot of Crucible ostensibly revolves around the cussed witch-hunts of Salem, Massachusetts that happened about 1690s. But Miller had his mind on the McCarthyism that swept the U.S. during his time. This talking about one era with an eye on another era has ensured that the play never loses its appeal.

On Tuesday evening, when a bunch of young college students donned the roles and tried to recreate the allegorical tale, it was a bit unsettling. The language, the sheer youthfulness of the cast, the sets and the way the characters spoke with each other, it was a bit jarring.

Then, as the slave girl Tituba is brought onto the stage with two men trying to wring out a confession, the audience was swept into the play as they could identify with the characters.

The play opens with Elizabeth Proctor on the bed and a gaggle of women talking excitedly about what brought it on (the spell of witchcraft). Were the group communing with the Devil? What were they doing in the garden with a kettle with a frog and some beans in it?

This sets off the debate and gives an opportunity for various spiritual and judicial officials to intervene in the domestic affairs of Proctor family.

It also gives an opportunity for Elizabeth's niece to have a go at winning back John Proctor whom she has tried to seduce on and off.

While the debate about witches and who has the power to decide and the evidence required is played out at one level, the family chemistry of the husband and wife gives the play its evocative character.

It transcends generations, never mind the language which harked back to language used in the King James' version of Bible.

Vijay Devarkonda's (John Proctor) was a standout performance as the man in love with his wife who becomes a victim in the end.

The other brilliant performance was by the Ankita Tibrewala (Abigail Williams) as the scheming, evil and calculating woman who keeps changing the tone and tenor to suit her wicked plot to get John Proctor. Sriram Srinivas (Rev. Parris) as the shallow minister of the church who doesn't have respect nor empathy for his own daughter Elizabeth nor the slave girl (the speech pattern of Sneha Shukla as Tituba was brilliant).

It was a brilliant performance by a cast of amateurs. To top it, the play which is part of the Hyderabad Theatre and Short Film Festival at Ravindra Bharathi began on time.