For those of you who have not had enough spookiness after Halloweekend, The Crucible is opening on October 31. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible details historically and fictionally the events of the Salem Witch Trials, which took place in Massachusetts from 1692-1693 and resulted in the execution of 14 women and five men.
The play is most famously known as an allegory for McCarthyism—a period of heightened hysteria and fear of communists in 1950s America—a parallel that the director, Justin Myhre ’14, and the assistant director, Corinne Hastings ’14, explored in their production. The hysteria and subsequent false accusations that arose closely parallel the hangings of supposed witches in Salem in the late 17th century.
The play features actors from all classes, and stars Molly Senack ’14 as Abigail Williams, the play’s 17 year old antagonist who ignites suspicions of witchcraft among the town’s women with the ultimate goal of killing her lover’s wife, and Benjamin Olneck-Brown ’15, who plays John Proctor, Abigail’s lover when she works for him as a servant. The show also includes many people, both in the cast and in the production team, who are not drama majors.
The cast has been steadfastly rehearsing for this production, and has been rehearsing recently for three to four hours a day, and seven hours last Sunday. Olneck-Brown joked, “We haven’t seen the sun in a week.” This prompted Myhre’s response, “It’s character work.”
The cast and crew is preparing their debut with blood, shadows and fog by dry ice. Olneck-Brown said, “It’s been a very intense rehearsal process because we have done it all in five weeks which for a show like this is a relatively short time.” The directors have also changed the casting slightly in comparison to the original version .
Instead of having 20 cast members, their version only has 10, which means most actors are double casted. Despite the double-casting and long rehearsal hours, Myhre expressed that preparation for the show is going smoothly. Myhre said, “[Rehearsals have] been going well. We are having a lot of fun. The whole idea behind the production is taking a classic American text, finding its bones and flipping it on its head.”
Myhre and Hastings flipped The Crucible on its head in more ways than just compressing the cast. They also played with the length by focusing less on the allegory. Originally, the play ran around 2 hours and 35 minutes; their version runs around 2 hours and 10 minutes. They highlighted the more universal elements of the play instead of the allegorical events.
Myhre chose this play in particular after having been exposed to it in high school. “I’ve loved The Crucible since I read it in high school. I wanted to do it now because it’s my senior year,” he said. Hastings jumped on board because she was excited to take on the challenge. “The Crucible is crazy and problematic, but that’s why turning it on its head has been so much fun,” she said.
The cast feels that though the play is 60 years old, it deals with issues still pertinent today. “When we delved more into the core truths of the play, everyone had something to say,” Senack said. “By [reducing] the allegory of specific events in the 1950s, you can realize how prevalent the issues still are.” Myhre agreed, saying, “It’s always going to be a classic in America because it’s really about truth.” Olneck-Brown then said, “The play questions goodness in a person, hypocrisy, and whether salvation is possible or redemption is possible. It’s also interesting to look at it in a 21st century post-Civil Rights Movement and post 2nd wave feminism time.” Hastings added, “You still root for the lead even though he is somewhat of a questionably bad person. John Proctor is great in a terrible way.”
As one might guess, playing such dynamic characters in such a complex time can be challenging. When asked about his struggles as an actor, Olneck-Brown responded, “It’s been so rewarding to have the opportunity to delve into such a complex and nuanced character, but also a challenge because there are a lot of things that John Proctor does that make me uncomfortable. The only thing I can do is to portray those as honestly as I can. It is a balance between that and stating when I feel uncomfortable.” Senack, who plays Abigail Williams—a suspected “good” character—has a similar struggle.
She said, “Everything’s a kind of balancing act. The point of the show is that there is no clear-cut line between good and bad . Even good characters are intensely flawed. It’s finding the part of morality born out of insecurity versus fundamental beliefs. Once the allegory is taken out, you have to still play the themes without that.”
Even with a downplayed version of the specific figurative events of the Salem Witch Trials, The Crucible still strives to challenge everyone’s belief systems.
The production will be performed in the Mug October 31 at 11 p.m., November 1 at 5 p.m. and November 2 at 8 p.m. Tickets are now available at the Information Desk. The directors chose the Mug because of its dark ambiance, and believe its spooky atmosphere is perfect for this production.
“It is reminiscent of hell,” said Hastings. Myhre added, “It is a cool space because it is so intimate; the audience is submerged in the action. There is no fourth wall between the audience and the action, so there is no voyeurism in the experience.”