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Theatricum’s The Crucible: A Parable of Mass Hysteria, Revenge and Witch Hunts

Special To Topanga Journal

From out of the dark of the theater comes the stillness of a child lying in bed. She is dressed in white with her bed cap on. We’re in Puritan America where the act of naming a neighbor results in either their death, or yours. This is Arthur Miller’s classic play The Crucible, directed by Theatricum Botanicum’s Ellen Geer.

Kriss Perras headshot by Alan Weissman

By Kriss Perras

This is a timely tale during today’s era of fake news, immigrants being visited by authorities for speaking a foreign language in a land, where unless you’re a Native American Indian, you and your family too are a family of immigrants. The play is especially meaningful to Geer since the theater and its history was born from the McCarthy era Hollywood blacklist. This is when Will Geer, Ellen Geer’s father, found himself the subject of the Hollywood witch hunt. This began with the Hollywood Ten: Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner, Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Sam Omitz, Robert Adrian Scott and Dalton Trumbo.

“Arthur Miller wrote the play that was inspired by the 1950’s McCarthy hearings. It is based on the historical accounts of the Salem witch trials.”

The Ten were called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) as to whether or not they were Communist Party members. The Committee wanted to know if the work they were doing was Communist inspired. When the Ten refused to testify stating the Committee was violating their rights, they ended up in jail for up to a year with a $1,000 fine and were blacklisted. That list grew to 150 names and was around through the 1960’s. But the tale turns even worse, much like the tale in The Crucible does. There was a second list, the Gray list created by former FBI agents. Titled The Report Of Communist Influence In Radio And Television, by the time that witch hunt was finished there were some 500 names being named.

In The Crucible the story begins with a love triangle. A Farmer named John Proctor has a few months prior to the start of the story committed adultery with a younger woman named Abigail. John turns from his ways and is again faithful, and sincerely so, to his wife. As the story goes, he is sorry he was unfaithful and is trying to make it up to his wife and regain her trust. That road is hard going though. Abigail on the other hand is out in the woods with Tituba, who conjures spirits with the town’s girls. They’re dancing naked in the woods, and Abigail is casting spells of death on John’s wife, Elizabeth, when Reverend Parris catches her and the other girls dancing with Tituba. And so begins the terrible weave of lies that starts the naming of names that leads to innocent lives being ruined, and the Puritanical blacklist in America begins.

Arthur Miller wrote the play that was inspired by the 1950’s McCarthy hearings. It is based on the historical accounts of the Salem witch trials. Miller concentrates on the inconsistencies of the trials, and the extreme behavior that results from mass hysteria, revenge and hidden agendas. The paranoid finger pointing resulted in the fear that everyone was a witch. It became a cycle of distrust similar to that of the Cold War and the McCarthy Era. During the Red Scare, the finger pointing resulted in the fear that everyone was a Communist.

As if the plot line in The Crucible wasn’t emotionally charged enough in today’s atmosphere, the cast deserves special applause for their performance that garnered a standing ovation the opening night of June 16. Willow Geer, who played Elizabeth, and Christopher Jones, who played John Proctor, had great chemistry on stage. They expressed the deep pain and sorrow of their lost romance, and the struggle to regain it after the character John’s infidelity and sincere efforts to start again. Jacquelin Schofield, who played Tituba, had a breathtaking performance. She was emotional and plausible. As the audience entered her world, a hush fell over the theater as she cried out her innocence, even though her character was backstabbing everyone in the story.

Mark Lewis, who played Reverend Samuel Parris, this is another talent who had a marvelous night of performance. He made you want to hate him. He accused everyone of being a witch and seemed to enjoy it. He embodied the idea of the Red Scare, that everyone was guilty and for self serving reasons. Melora Marshall was at her best on opening night. She gave an outstanding performance as the innocent character Rebecca Nurse. The acting troupe was at its height on opening night. There wasn’t a sour performance on that stage. Theatricum Botanicum deserves recognition for the training this theater gives its acting talent.

The Crucible is Miller’s most produced play. It originally opened on Broadway’s Martin Beck Theater January 22, 1953 and won a Tony Award for best play. It ran 571 off Broadway performances from 1957-58. A screen adaptation was written in 1996 by Miller starring Daniel Day-Lewis , Winona Rider, Joan Allen and Paul Scofield and was nominated for an Academy Award. Miller is credited alongside Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams for putting American Theater on the world theater map. Miller’s plays include: The Man Who Had All the Luck (1944), All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), A View from the Bridge and A Memory of Two Mondays (1955), After the Fall (1964), Incident at Vichy (1964), The Price (1968), The Creation of the World and Other Business (1972), The Archbishop’s Ceiling (1977) and The American Clock (1980). Later plays include The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991), The Last Yankee (1993), Broken Glass (1994), Mr. Peters’ Connections (1998), Resurrection Blues (2002) and Finishing the Picture (2004). Miller won a Pulitzer Prize for Death of A Salesman (1949).

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https://theatricum.com/

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