Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts tagged as “The Crucible”

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).


Subscribe to our newsletter

Theatricum Botanicum’s Season of Socially Conscious Theater

Special To Topanga Journal

We’re lucky to have Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga. It is one of the best theater’s in Los Angeles. There’s never a performance that disappoints. We can thank not only the dedicated talent that performs there, but the theater’s artistic director, Ellen Geer, for continuing her father’s legacy.

Kriss Perras headshot by Alan Weissman

By Kriss Perras

The theater’s beginning’s wind back to the early 1950’s when Will Geer became a victim of McCarthyism and found himself on the Hollywood Blacklist. This Topanga theater was born from the juggernaut of twisted politics spewing from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s lips. Actor Will Geer and his wife, Herta Ware, created a theater as a haven for Blacklisted actors and folk singers on his property here in Topanga. Geer’s friends such as Ford Rainey, John Randolph and Woody Guthrie joined him on the dirt stage for vigorous performances and inspired grassroots activism, while the audiences sat on railroad ties.

“This Topanga theater was born from the juggernaut of twisted politics spewing from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s lips.”

“The Crucible” at Theatricum Photo by Ian Flanders

Theatricum Botanicum is back this season with an exciting summer line-up of socially conscious theater, music and performances. The season includes five plays set to open in rapid succession and perform in repertory throughout the summer together with a host of satellite events. The stage will open June 2 and continue through mid-October. This season’s repertoire includes performances of The Crucible, Coriolanus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Chalk Garden and Haiti.


To start the season off, Theatricum will begin with an allegory for today’s turbulent times. Shakespeare’s crushing tragedy is one of his more openly political plays. It is a cautionary tale of revenge. Rome, a city where the one-percenters rule, is led by a populist general who has nothing but contempt for the 99 percent. Unable to reconcile his disdain for the common people with his love of country, Coriolanus finds himself driven into the embrace of his sworn enemy. Coriolanus is a hero lacking in political prowess and destroyed by his pride and inability to compromise. The play is set in Rome’s transition from Monarchy to Republic.

The Crucible

McCarthysim, witch hunts, Hollywood blacklists and fake news all come into play in the upcoming Theatricum Botanicum performance of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

The play is a parable of mass hysteria that draws a chilling parallel between the Salem witch hunts of 1692 and McCarthyism, which gripped America in the 1950s. Theatricum artistic director Ellen Geer, Will’s daughter, is at the helm, with family members Thad Geer, Willow Geer and Melora Marshall featured in the cast.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

What a classic tale from Shakespeare and our annual audience favorite. The magic of Theatricum’s natural outdoor setting will stand in for the Bard’s enchanted forest, as director Willow Geer conjures up a world of wonder, magic and romance in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Chalk Garden

Long-time Theatricum company member Susan Angelo directs the Geer family revival of Enid Bagnold’s classic The Chalk Garden. This timeless classic that has seen broadway and performed on many stages, even across the pond in London, is brought to our stage here at Theatricum with a dyed in the wool British dowager known as Mrs. St. Maugham, a selfish and eccentric woman who spends her days gardening but is unable to make anything grow. Her teenage daughter, Laurel, is a precocious liar. When enigmatic Miss Madrigal is hired as household companion and manager, the two finally meet their match.


The theater will present a revival of Haiti, a historical melodrama about the 1802 overthrow of the colonial Haitian government written by William DuBois for the Federal Theatre Project (FTP). It was subtitled A drama of the black Napoleon. The play was presented in 1938 by the FTP’s Negro Theatre Unit in a radical and controversial production that saw white and black actors performing together onstage at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. The FTP was part of the Works Progress Administration Federal Theater Project (FTP), and part of the New Deal economic recovery program. Negro Units, also called the Negro Theatre Project, were set up in 23 cities across the US. It only survived from 1935 – 1939 but provided employment and apprenticeships to hundreds of black actors, directors, theater technicians and playwrights. This project was a huge leg up for black talent during the Depression Era. The Lafayette Theater in Harlem was the best known of the FTP program theaters. Two white directors, John Houseman and Orson Welles, headed it in 1935. Three black directors, Edward Perry, Carlton Moss, and H. F. V. Edward, replaced them in 1936.

Other Theater Programming:

In addition to theater, Theatricum will present other special events on its mainstage.

• Wednesday, July 4 from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.: Theatricum’s fourth annual Family Barn Dance and Bar-B-Que;

• Saturday, Oct. 6 at 2 p.m.: The Woody Guthrie Story, the Geer family’s annual tribute to the songwriter, folklorist and labor leader who was also a longtime Theatricum friend.

• Sunday, Oct. 7 at 4 p.m.: Inara George and Friends, the acclaimed singer/songwriter’s annual concert that benefits the theater’s artistic and educational programming.


Subscribe to our newsletter

Topanga Journal
This site uses cookies. Close