M-A drama’s production of The Crucible by Arthur Miller begins on a grim stage, with a plain wooden cross in the center and backlit, bare trees for effect. After a season of dedicated hard work, directed by drama and stagecraft teacher Danette Bathauer, opening night was Friday, October 27th. Just in time for Halloween, The Crucible is full of haunting emotion, devastating sorrow, and sends a delightful chill through the audience.
The plot begins with Reverend Parris (Louis Leon) spotting a group of girls, along with slave Tituba (Sara Madsen), dancing in the forest one night, allegedly conjuring spirits. When one of the girls, Betty (Sophie Glinder) falls ill, rumors of witchcraft begin to spark. Local farmer John Proctor (Ian Peterson), known to dislike Reverend Parris, rejects his past feelings for Betty’s cousin Abigail (Kate Mulhern) and denies the witchcraft. When Abigail accuses John Proctor’s wife Elizabeth (Izzie Nada), things begin to get out of hand.
Reverend John Hale (Milo Brosamer) and Rebecca Nurse (Kelley McCutcheon) do their best to calm the hysterical townspeople, but to no avail. Evident from the beginning, truth and lies dance together on a bloody stage, until Mary Warren lies writhing upon the ground, in tears, and nobody is sure of which side they stand on anymore The first act concludes with dreadful suspense, and for many, the intermission can’t finish fast enough.
John convinces servant Mary Warren (Zoe Schacter-Brodie) to speak against the dancing and conjuring of spirits. However, Mary breaks and confesses to witchcraft after Abigail and the others pretend that she is bewitching them. Now it is John who must testify – confessing prevents death by hanging, but only if he admits to lying. Not confessing leads to painful death by noose, but pride in how he leaves the earth.
The tension heightens – people are in jail left and right, accusing others, being accused, providing false evidence, withholding true evidence. “I say God is dead,” says John, infuriating Deputy-Governor Danforth (Dmitry Goltsev), who rules over the court proceedings. After consulting with Elizabeth in a tear-wrenching moment, John decides he wants his freedom and falsely confesses to witchcraft. However, he cannot bear the thought of the whole town seeing his signature upon the page and tears it up at the last moment. The curtain comes down upon stunned silence, and a cast of jailed characters is ready to meet the gallows. Then, a monstrous applause erupts and does not quiet down for some time.
“There’s no other way for you to become the actor unless you feel for them,” says Ian Peterson, who plays John Proctor. “I understand that [John Proctor] is a man who speaks his mind. I’d like to think of myself that way. The biggest difference is that he’s a bit of a violent-tempered man at times… and resorting to violence isn’t something I see myself doing.” Peterson has become John Proctor to a profound extent – from watching the show, one can see the emotion, hear the cries of a man fighting for what he thinks he believes in. Peterson is applying to act in college and beyond.
Kate Mulhern excellently portrayed the stubborn Abigail. “I’d like to think that we’re very different,” Kate says, about her role. “I wouldn’t condemn people to death. She’s a very strong person – I’m strong. But she’s delusional, she’s childish. I’m different in that way.” Theater continually puts Mulhern in places where she must empathize with the character. In the case of The Crucible, she has done an exceptional job looking for the soft side of John Proctor and remaining firm in where she stands, regardless of consequences.
Izzie Nada has been acting since the age of four and plans to continue professionally. She plays Elizabeth Proctor, who, according to her husband, can “never tell a lie.” Nada nobly stands upon the stage and, though in a desperate situation, retains herself and her pride with dignity. “Elizabeth expects the people around her to adhere to her moral code. I don’t really have that expectation for other people,” says Nada. “But I really admire her strength and her way of sticking to her values. I think that’s how we’re similar.”
The effect of the play was ethereal. Every last detail – the wooden benches from stagecraft class, the props delicately placed – shows a cast and crew dedicated to their work of putting on the production of a lifetime. Behind the blood red screen, actors passed by, creating the illusion of a busy Massachusetts town. The lights dimmed at crucial moments, shrouding the court scene in a cloak of shadow.
“It’s heart-wrenching but also hopeful… every character is so beautifully developed and complex. Some of the themes of community and ‘us versus them’ are still relevant, even if it’s a story written about a time hundreds of years in the past,” says Nada. Milo Brosamer (Reverend John Hale) added that because of such a welcoming rehearsal environment, “actors can try new things and become their characters to an extent that would have been impossible in a more judgmental environment.”
The Crucible contains complicated religious ideas of sinning and accusing others. The general hysteria and confusion about all the lies adds to the height of the drama, until it all comes undone in the end. “For the first time in awhile, we’ve started the rehearsal process with a thematic analysis of the text and it’s really helped us to elevate the show,” says Izzie Nada. By the time the curtain comes down, the audience is a mess of emotion and astounded at the way high school actors can turn into such real characters. They truly transform, and it is nearly impossible to recognize the tortured faces of those onstage as peers one sees in the hallways on a daily basis.
“The devil is alive in Salem,” says Reverend John Hale – and, indeed, the devil is alive in the M-A Performing Arts Center, but for a limited time only. General admission is $12 and student admission is $8. The Crucible‘s final stint will be next weekend, with 7:30 p.m. performances on Friday and Saturday and an afternoon matinee on Sunday at 2 PM. The cast and crew are unrivaled in the production of such a splendid retelling. It is not an event to miss!