Opposed Absolutes – The Crucible

By on 1 May, 2017 in Art, Sarah Thornton with 0 Comments

Crucible [n]: a place or situation in which concentrated forces interact to cause or influence change or development. (2.) a severe test.

For the last several weeks, the Cloverdale Playhouse has been climbing the mountain that is Arthur Miller’s masterpiece The Crucible. Some plays get under your skin, and boy, this is one of them. We’ve all heard the adage about “history repeating itself,” and this play is a perfect example of that lesson.

In the 1940s and ’50s, Senator McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee publicly accused and tried hundreds of people in a paranoid hunt for subversives and communists in the country. Their witch hunt, which was eventually proven to be unfounded, earned Senator McCarthy a censure from the Senate and a place in history as the ringmaster of one of the most repressive and fearful political and social periods of our nation. Our playwright, Arthur Miller, as well as many other writers and artists and satirists, bore the brunt of McCarthy’s allegations. Unsubstantiated claims meant those accused were blacklisted. Many were jailed. Passports were taken away. Careers and lives were ruined. The press was afraid to stand against those in power for fear of facing its own accusation. It was a time of censorship, blame, and panic.

As an artist, Arthur Miller wanted to find a way to channel his experiences during the era of McCarthyism into his work. He examined history and drew a line to the Salem Witch Trials of the late 1600s. During that time in Salem, Massachusetts, more than a hundred people were accused of practicing witchcraft. Many of them climbed the steps to the gallows. Hysteria, fear of both outsiders and neighbors, overall suspicion and resentment ruled the day. Much of this fear stemmed from the communities falling on hard times. They had faced war and plague as well as attacks from other villages and tribes. The harsher realities of their lives certainly played a major role in stoking their fear of the perceived threat to their survival.

Our country has had a long-standing relationship with fear. The world is a scary place, that’s certain. Time and time again, life teaches us lessons about the cost of living and acting out of fear. And yet we continue to make the same mistakes. The Playhouse’s production of The Crucible explores this idea. We create a Salem many years into the future. It is a dystopian world where crops cannot grow, where it is difficult to feed one’s children, where villagers sue each other right and left to gain a few pieces of wood or what remains of the livestock. Right from the beginning. the humanity and compassion of these characters is being pushed past the breaking point. Then a vindictive, scorned young woman gives them someone to blame for hardship.

Art has a power to “hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” It is not the Playhouse’s goal to tell you what to see, but to encourage you to listen and glean from this story what lessons you will. We want you to draw your own conclusions. I can tell you that the truth of these characters is not always cut and dry. None of these people are wholly good or wholly bad. Allegiances may shift back and forth and back again. We must put the principles we hold so strongly to in our minds as certainties under a microscope. As Miller wrote, “It is rare for people to be asked the question which puts them squarely in front of themselves.” The play examines some big conflicts: truth versus falsehood, faith versus doubt, and trust versus suspicion. And when these forces collide in the struggle, will there be change?

Get your tickets for Arthur Miller’s THE CRUCIBLE at the Cloverdale Playhouse, running until May 7.

Visit www.cloverdaleplayhouse.org or call the box office at (334) 262-1530 for more information. Due to difficult subject matter, parental discretion is advised for children under the age of 15.

Sarah Walker Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse, who walks like a New Yorker and waves like an Alabama girl. She is a product of a Montgomery arts education, with several years of life in NYC thrown in for extra flavor.

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