As someone whose opinion of The Crucible was never tainted by some dry-brained English teacher's lifeless interpretation, I came to the Raven Theatre production with fresh eyes--and was blown away. First by Arthur Miller's fine, multilayered play. The way Miller wove together the various strands of his story--the Salem witch trials, the HUAC hearings, life in colonial Massachusetts--into a taut two-act play is nothing short of brilliant. However, I was even more amazed by Michael Menendian's glorious production. Over the past few seasons I have come to expect little more from the Raven than a kind of dogged, workmanlike theater that rarely stumbles, but even more rarely flies. The Crucible changes all that. From the first scene of the play, this incredibly tight ensemble soars for the length of the show, creating one living, breathing character after another--even villainous characters like Reverend Parris and Judge Hathorne come off as real human beings--until this vivid two-and-a-half-hour drama comes all-too-quickly to a close. Not since Frank Farrell's lyrical production of Miller's A Memory of Two Mondays a couple of years ago has the Raven put on a show that so effortlessly transcended the limitations of performance space and time. If I were a more superstitious critic, I'd suspect them of witchcraft. Raven Theatre, 6931 N. Clark, 338-2177. Through March 21: Saturdays, 8:45 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $10$15. Then March 26 through May 2: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $12-$15.