"It is truly sobering to realize that this play has never, in my lifetime, lost its relevance," writes director David Burmester in his program comments for Acme Theatre's production of "The Crucible," running through January 12 at the Veterans Memorial Theatre.
Arthur Miller's classic play concerns the Salem witch trials, which took place from June through September of 1692, during which time nineteen men and women were hanged at Gallows Hill near Salem. Another man was pressed to death by stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of other persons faced accusations of witchcraft and dozens more languished in jail without trials. Miller, who wrote this play in the mid-1950s, intended for his play to be a metaphor for the "red scare" of the era of Senator Joe McCarthy, in which similar "witch hunts" occurred, but targeting citizens as Communists rather than disciples of Satan.
"The Crucible" is a work which still shows the mass hysteria which can evolve and destroy the lives of innocent people, whether witches or communists or Japanese interred without any proof of guilt during World War II, or Middle Easterners in 2001, detained for looking middle eastern, and therefore suspect.
It is unfortunate that some of the dialog in Acme's production is difficult to understand. Important information is rushed and the dialect occasionally makes it difficult to follow what is being said, however it is a small complaint in an otherwise powerful production.
The story begins in the bedroom of young Betty Parris (Genevieve Moreno). Betty lies comatose while her father, the Reverend Parris (Jake Stoebel) kneels at her side praying for her recovery. In the next few minutes we discover that on the previous night, Betty had been dancing in the forest with a group of girls, including Tituba, a slave from Barbados (Lusungu Mkandawire) and Abigail Williams, the Reverend's niece (Allese Thomson). Their frolic was discovered by the Reverend and when Betty cannot be awakened the next morning, rumors begin to fly that the girls had been practicing witchcraft and that Betty is bewitched.
Alarmed neighbors, Thomas and Ann Putnam (Brian Oglesby and Jill Winternitz) approach Parris with rumors that Betty was seen flying over a barn. Their daughter is also sick and they, too, feel witchcraft is the cause.
When John Proctor, a local farmer, arrives with his wife and is left alone with Abigail, we learn of their brief affair, his remorse, and the girl's intention to continue the relationship. When Proctor makes it clear that the affair is over,
In a theatrical experiment, Acme is including in this production a scene which had been written into the original script, but which was dropped many years ago and is now rarely performed. The scene, which comes at the start of Act 2, is a brief meeting of Proctor and Abigail in the forest prior to the trial. According to director Burmester, it somewhat shifts the culpability away from Abigail because in the scene she really seems to be somewhat deranged. She is so completely caught up in what she considers her love of John and her attempts to cleanse the world of all evil ("when this world is white again what a wife I'll make you"). Burmester feels the scene gives an interesting twist to the story. Abigail's apparent mental derangement illustrates more clearly that the men of Salem have been manipulating the girls.
The new scene will run on Thursday and Saturday, and the show without the additional scene will run Friday.