(Cover Photo: Members of the CAST of Arthur Miller's "THE CRUCIBLE" in Worcester, MA. until April 2, 2023. Photo courtesy Mike Nyman)
By Kevin T. Baldwin
“I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”
- Arthur Miller
The subject of the Salem Witch Trials comes to the BrickBox Theater in Worcester this spring in the form of a special staged reading by an All Female Cast of Arthur Miller's "THE CRUCIBLE" by THT Rep.
Written by Miller in 1953, the historical play is set in Salem, Massachusetts Bay Colony shortly after the infamous Salem Witch Trials in 1692, which resulted in the deaths of 25 innocent women, men and children.
The show premiered at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York City in January, 1953.
As much as a play and as a masterpiece of literature, after 70 years, "THE CRUCIBLE" still maintains much of its impact.
With the approach taken with an All Female Cast, the reading brings with it a fascinating element of how these actresses in 2023 interpret the words of a male playwright's 1950s' description and depiction of an oppressive and totalitarian society in the 1690s.
The opening narration (which, at the March 30th performance, was provided by the staged reading's director, Olivia Scanlon) describes the Puritan colony of Salem as an isolated theocratic society in constant conflict with Native Americans.
Miller wrote the play as an allegory for McCarthyism, when then-Senator Joseph McCarthy was bent on spreading Communist hysteria, accusing and persecuting people of being communists
In "THE CRUCIBLE," the colony is one with absolutely no sense of civil liberties.
Given their isolation from the rest of civilization, there are heightened tensions which come from unbelievably harsh conditions they have endured and tragic events which have befallen many in the colony.
Ultimately, this results in all-encompassing superstitious paranoia which leads to the horrific events depicted in the play.
It is equally horrific to consider how those who stand by their truthful convictions find themselves at complete odds with those whose convictions lead to the annihilation of others.
Sound familiar? It should.
As one begins watch (and listen to) the play, their first thought might be: How could America, as we know it now, ever have evolved from such UN-evolved antagonists as depicted in the catastrophic events of "THE CRUCIBLE?"
Then, perhaps slowly...or, perhaps at lightning speed...they recall our more recent socio-political antagonists such as (but not limited to) the folks from the Tea Party, the neo-fascist white nationalist Proud Boys, the QAnon followers pushing ideas of "Pizzagate," the far Christian right members of the United States Supreme Court and their overturning of Roe v. Wade, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and her concept of "Jewish Space Lasers" - oh, and, of course, the "My Pillow Guy."
America, by 2023, has not only managed to match the "cray-cray" level depicted in Miller's allegorical Salem, America has surpassed it.
But enough politics. Let's, instead, discuss this staged reading and the story itself.
A staged reading, for some, might seem as visually compelling as watching someone sort through and fold their laundry.
However, the ensemble for THT's staged reading interacted quite well together - and director Olivia Scanlon (Livy) added some movements to help make the piece more seamless and visually stimulating.
The production is energetic in execution and the majority of the ensemble have a fine sense of their characters.
So much so that, at times, it almost seemed a shame the actors weren't allowed to separate themselves from the scripts they were carrying as there were many who were so in tune with their characters, they certainly did not require the scripts.
In fact, the scripts seemed to get in the way of some of the limited blocking involved.
For the overall recitation, the ensemble did well with the dialogue and, more specifically, the occasionally difficult vocabulary and vernacular inherent to Miller's depicted ancient Salem colonists.
Of the many capable performances, two, especially, stood out: Karen MacDonald as "Deputy Governor Danforth" and Therese Plaehn as the show's main protagonist, "John Proctor."
There is an overwhelming theme in "THE CRUCIBLE" showing how, when a person selfishly attempts to preserve one's own reputation, in this case, Danforth, they might actually cause more harm and increase hysteria caused by ignorance.
Conversely, by keeping their head, their self-respect and their integrity, that person, in this case, Proctor, actually might serve as a community's "moral compass," attempting to keep others calm, rational and safe.
Unfortunately, for Proctor, the hysteria proves relentless.
(Photo: Colleen Malvey, Caroline Major and Samantha Madigan in a pivotal moment from the staged reading of Arthur Miller's "THE CRUCIBLE" in Worcester, MA. until April 2, 2023. Photo courtesy Mike Nyman)
Other powerful elements to the two-act drama include: social pressure, religious and sexual persecution, paranoia, respect, ignorance, jealousy and, above all, forgiveness.
To Danforth, in charge of the "trial," those accused of any crime are not "innocent until proven guilty." In fact, the opposite proves more accurate.
In this sorely misguided community of Salem, and in the eyes of Danforth, the truth means little.
Common sense is neither common nor sensible. Conclusions are reached that would never come to any other rational thinking person.
And, much like Proctor, innocents are doomed simply because they did not want to confess to something that they did not do.
From MacDonald's interpretive reading, the character of Danforth has moments where it appears the Governor wants to serve justice well given the situation - even pointing out notable "character flaws" in several of the antagonists.
However, to service justice the only way he knows how, the Governor still proves to be a product of his time.
Referring to the above, one interesting aspect of listening to the staged reading is how some of Miller's own stage directions show him to be a product of his time, especially in how he describes some of the female characters.
Above all, as we learn from "THE CRUCIBLE" of just how far America has come, the biggest lesson is that we still have so much to learn.
The staged reading of Arthur Miller's "THE CRUCIBLE" by THT Rep continues throughout April 2nd at the BrickBox Theatre.
Coming soon from THT Rep will be "THE MARVELOUS PARTY," inspired by Noël Coward and billed as "An immersive party performance," from May 12 through May 14, 2023.
Approximately three hours with one intermission.
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)
This staged reading of The Crucible is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc., New York.
ABOUT THT REP
The arts play a vital role in helping individuals of all ages develop self-esteem, compassion and problem solving skills. Students who study or participate in the arts have proven academic success. They find their voice and discover new avenues for creative expression. It is our goal to maximize a student’s social and emotional development while introducing them to theatre, dance, music and design. In addition, access to state-of-the-art equipment and hands-on training with industry professionals in our world-class venue allows students to gain real-world experience in the performing arts field.
ABOUT THE VENUE
With its industrial aesthetic and intimate seating, the BrickBox Theater at the Jean McDonough Arts Center is perfect for fresh, sophisticated stagings of classic works.
THE REP at the BrickBox Theater
Jean McDonough Arts Center
20 Franklin Street
Worcester, MA. 01608
508-413-JMAC/877-571-SHOW (Box Office)