Main Street Theatre Works in the Sierra Foothills town of Jackson is staging an outdoor production of Arthur Miller’s drama “The Crucible”. Experiencing a performance of this American classic this month is particularly timely.
“The Crucible” – which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 – is a play about the Salem Witch Trials held in Puritan Massachusetts in 1692. When he wrote this play six decades back, Miller was thinking of Senator Joe McCarthy and his relentless hunt for hidden Communists. But the play is still frequently produced, even though McCarthy is long gone.
The play opens with a gathering of Puritan girls dancing together in the forest, under the direction of a slave woman from the Caribbean. There is pagan drumming, there is giddy laughter, and several of the girls sip a mysterious red potion.
Accusations fly that the girls were conjuring spirits and consorting with the devil, and people start to panic.
Soon, the whole town is in a frenzy, and a deeply suspicious judge arrives to investigate. The girls band together, and start leveling accusations of witchcraft at many of the town’s respected elders. Their false accusations and hasty trials destroy innocent people’s lives and reputations. That’s the actual subject of this play.
The girls also decide to destroy the credibility of one girl who breaks ranks and suggests that the other girls are pretending – they do this standing together and mimicking her testimony in unison, as if possessed. The judge, who sees evidence of witchcraft everywhere, swallows this bogus accusation.
Mary: “They’re sporting!” (Girls: “They’re sporting!”)
Mary: “Abbie, stop it!” (Girls: “Abbie, stop it!”)
Mary: “Stop it!” (Girls: “Stop it!”) “Stop it!” (“Stop it!”)
Judge: “A little while ago, you were afflicted! Now it seems that you afflict others! Where did you find this power?”
Mary: “I have no power!” (Girls: “I have no power!”)
“The Crucible” never goes out of fashion, because the specter of mass hysteria encouraged by opportunistic political figures, running roughshod over legal processes with devastating results, is just as disturbing today as it was in the 1950s -- or the 1690s. This timeless script finds fresh resonance and parallels with each new decade.
This production benefits from being staged outdoors, at night, adding to the atmosphere. And this revival by Main Street Theatre Works is particularly timely, because Saturday Aug. 19 marks the 325th anniversary of the hasty hanging of John Proctor – the leading male character in the play, who faces an agonizing life-or-death choice in the final scene. Should he make a false confession and survive, or insist on speaking the truth, and die?
So if you’ve never seen “The Crucible,” or haven’t thought about it since you were required to read it long ago, you really should think about giving this small-but-sturdy production of Arthur Miller’s durable classic a look.
The Main Street Theatre Works production of “The Crucible” continues Friday and Saturday evenings at the Kennedy Mine Amphitheatre in Jackson, through Sept. 9