By Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
Arthur Miller’s classic play about the Salem witch trials opened at the Tennessee Williams Center to a full house. Directed by associate professor of acting Jim Crawford, and featuring an impeccable cast including Will Burton-Edwards (C’18) and Marion Givhan (C’18), The Crucible explored the dangers of group-thinking while emphasizing the choices of individual characters in the face of chaos.
Crawford chose this play, ambitious in its conception and daunting in its execution, particularly because of its relevance to current events. Miller wrote the play in 1953 at the height of the Red Scare, when many of his friends were accused of being Communist sympathizers and called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. When many of them were blacklisted, he responded by researching the Salem Witch Trials.
“The years 1692 and 1953 reflect back and forth off one another in the play, and the beauty of theatre is that 2018 is in there bouncing off them as well,” said Crawford in a statement to The Purple. “I think it will be hard for anyone to see this play today and not think about elements of our current political situation. We’re living in an age in which Fake News has become a powerful political force, whipping people into frenzies of irrationality, just as it did in Salem.”
These frenzies of irrationality dominate the play as the scare of witchcraft and communion with the devil take the village, until the chaos inevitably enters the house of John Proctor, played by Burton-Edwards, and his wife, Elizabeth Proctor, played by Givhan. Together, they paint a nuanced portrait of domestic normalcy, which is then offset by the pandemonium that Proctor unwittingly invites into their home through his dalliance with Abigail Williams, played by Karissa Wheeler (C’19).
“The characters serve as examples of finding one’s own goodness and morality within oneself,” explained Givhan. “That’s the perspective I experience through the show, as John and Elizabeth struggle with that lesson up until the final moment of the play. They vacillate between caring about what others think and determining that what matters is what they know about themselves.”
“In addition to compelling people to question their knowledge and beliefs, I hope people will recognize the message that I see in John and Elizabeth: even though they inspire each other to stand on their own, they are ultimately a team,” she continued. “They give strength to each other until the end.”
Performance is only one aspect of the show: a lot of backstage work is required for the production, and it is evident in the show. Upon entry into the Proctor Hill Theatre, audience members are greeted by an astonishing set of wooden pillars and hardwood floors. The creation of this set, supervised by Emily Riedlinger (C’18), provides a fantastic backdrop to the events of the play.
The Crucible’s ambition demands that actors double as crew members: for example, Sarah Mixon (C’21), who plays Mercy Lewis, is also a makeup assistant. Similarly, Lydia Klaus (C’19), who portrays the irascible Deputy Governor Danforth, works, too, as a costume technician.
“Experiencing the production as an actor and technician has been incredible, especially in light of how heavy the build for this show is and how demanding these roles are,” explained Klaus. “The Crucible demands so much from everyone, but the cast and crew have really risen to the occasion and invested so much of themselves into this project.”
Danielle Silfies (C’19) has worked in the costume shop since her freshman year, and designed costumes for her own dance piece in Dancewise last December. The Crucible, which requires time period-specific costumes for a large cast with limitations on fabric selection to ensure authenticity, proved challenging but rewarding.
“The costume for Elizabeth Proctor is my favorite costume,” Silfies said. “I love Elizabeth’s character and I really wanted to give her a great costume. So I started by using the color red which, during Puritan times, meant courage, bravery, and strength. These were characteristics of Elizabeth that I wanted emphasize.”
Greer King (C’21) is assistant stage manager, a role which necessitates her presence at every rehearsal, which comes to about 15 to 20 hours a week.
“You have to be very good at communication and organization,” she said. “You also have to be able to maintain a balance of being both authoritative and approachable, which can actually be quite difficult.”
The Crucible is a play that, from the moment it begins to the second it ends, enthralls and edifies. It demands as much of the audience as it does of the cast and crew in that it confronts the audience about the problems of our current society and asks how they will choose to act.
“This is a show that has always been and will always be relevant,” declared Burton-Edwards. “Perpetually, we as an American society decide on some group to endlessly hate: whether it be drug dealers, immigrants, the very rich, the poor, some religious or ethnic group, or what have you. There’s the perpetual separation of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in society.”
“Different audience members will, of course, find different meanings and political statements, in the play,” he continued. “That’s great. I don’t want the audience to go away having a common enemy. In fact, that’s exactly the opposite of what I want. I want us all to realize that making an enemy out of some subgroup, no matter how egregious their sins, will help no one.”
The Crucible is playing at the Tennessee Williams Center on March 1, 2, and 3, at 7:30pm.