Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: NOVEMBER 19, 2010
A recent, post-election poll revealed that many voters are having “buyer’s remorse.” Swept up in the emotional frenzy and mob mentality, they supported people and positions that now seem to be dangerously extreme. And so it was in 1692, and in 1953, when Arthur Miller wrote “The Crucible,” which won the Tony Award for Best Play.
He set his drama in 17th century Salem, Mass, but he was living through another series of witch hunts, having been accused of Communist sympathies, called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and asked to name names. He refused, and was held in contempt of Congress. He wrote his scathing indictment of McCarthyism and groupthink as a parable, a cautionary tale, which remains painfully relevant today.
His story is based on historical record. Most of the names weren’t changed. All through Massachusetts , neighbors were condemning neighbors – saying the devil was entering their souls, causing crops to fail and babies to die at birth. The hysteria that ensued is reminiscent of the threat of ‘death panels’ and the ‘immigrant takeover’ that drowned out thoughtful dialogue this election season.
Back in Salem , a bevy of young girls is found dancing in the woods at midnight, led by a slave woman from Barbados . In their own defense, the girls band together to target the townspeople, moaning and wailing in unison. Once the witchcraft accusations begin, the paranoia escalates. Experts, judges and clergymen are called in. A travesty of a trial is held, where finger-pointing trumps fact. Folks do or say anything to save their neck from the noose. In one horrendous true story, a man who refuses to respond to the charge at all, is crushed to death beneath heavy stones.
Miller, a humanist to the core, perhaps our country’s greatest dramatic conscience, gives many of his characters a moment of doubt and indecision, a nanosecond of uncertainty. This instant of ambiguity isn’t played up in the fine collaborative production of Moxie Theatre and Intrepid Shakespeare Company. Under the co-direction of Jennifer Eve Thorn and Christy Yael, the intellectual power of Miller’s condemnation of intolerance remains intact, but the emotional nuance is underdeveloped.
Still, the effective 19-member cast acquits itself well, centered by a potent performance by Sean Cox as John Proctor, the one man who reveres reason, who visibly grapples with his soul, exposing his own marital infidelity rather than admitting to witchcraft, in an effort to salvage the one thing that means most to him: his good name. Compelling dramatic support is provided by Lisel Gorell -Getz, Rhona Gold and Justin Lang.
The long, stark production underscores Miller’s preachy wordiness, but the starched Puritan look, the sinister sound and the insistent drumbeat of history still pack a powerful punch.
“The Crucible” runs through December 5 at Moxie Theatre.
©2010 PAT LAUNER