Amid Greenfield-Central’s theatrical season of humor, one-acts, a children’s show and a musical, a serious drama such as “The Crucible” stands out.
Playwright Arthur Miller’s message is as dark and gloomy as the costumes worn by the actors portraying the Puritans of 1692 Salem, Massachusetts.
In the play, based on the true events of the Salem Witch Trials, married man John Proctor falls in love with Abigail Williams, a servant in his household. When Proctor tries to break it off, Abigail declares that John’s wife, Elizabeth, has bewitched her. Proctor realizes that he has put his wife in danger and eventually confesses his affair with Abigail to clear his wife’s name.
Other characters are accused of witchcraft, including Giles Corey, who dies during interrogation for refusal to identify an informant who claimed that some are being accused of witchcraft so that others can claim their land.
Story continues below gallery
Proctor at first confesses to witchcraft but then changes his mind as he realizes his good name is the only honest thing he has left.
Drama director Ted Jacobs, in his 15th year at Greenfield-Central High School, typically selects something more literary or theatrical as his mid-winter production, and “The Crucible” definitely falls into that category. In previous years, the mid-winter show has been a selection from Shakespeare, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Dracula” and another Arthur Miller play, “All My Sons.”
Although Jacobs has done previous plays by Arthur Miller, he insists he doesn’t have a favorite playwright. He chooses a script based on the quality of the play.
“Arthur Miller is America’s playwright,” Jacobs said.
This show is timely because the juniors at the high school are reading “The Crucible” for class. Reading the play in class as well as rehearsing it on stage has provided a lot of interesting conversations about character, especially when the director’s views clash with the views of the classroom teacher. Scenes are interpreted based on characterization, and sometimes cast members and director disagree.
“You perform a play differently than you read it,” Jacobs said.
“It’s also timely because of events that are happening in the news,” Jacobs said, citing current events where people, like the character of John Proctor, have been unjustly accused and punished.
The show’s message, according to Jacobs, is the theme of questioning authority and recognizing that people may be motivated by less than savory intentions.
“The term witch hunt, the way we use it today, comes from this time in the 1600s,” Jacobs said.
The play actually was written by Miller in 1953 as an allegory for McCarthyism of the 1950s, when Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee held out-of-control hearings to ferret out communists in the government, the entertainment industry and labor unions.
Miller himself was called before the committee in 1956 and earned a contempt of court charge for refusing to name communists. The plotline for “The Crucible” follows this same idea of people being unjustly accused of witchcraft instead of communism.
Jacobs faces challenges in directing a serious and emotional play like “The Crucible” with high school students. Teenagers tend to exaggerate emotion, Jacobs explains, but John Proctor is a man who is trying to atone for his sins in private. Emotional differences can be very subtle, and it’s hard for teenagers, who tend to play emotions in extremes, to interpret shades of emotion, Jacobs said.
Since it was written in 1953, “The Crucible” has been performed hundreds of times by community and high school theater groups. Though Jacobs has added an expositional scene at the beginning of the play, his production will follow the familiar interpretation of Miller’s script.
“I don’t think you can bring something different to ‘The Crucible’ and give the respect that’s due to it as a piece of American literature,” Jacobs said.
The actors will play on an uneven stage, divided into four areas, each area at a different height. Jacobs explains that each of the leveled platform areas represent a different strata of 1692 society in Salem. The lowest of the three is the location for John Proctor’s house, signifying his status as a farmer. On the opposite side of the stage, and obviously more elevated than the Proctor household, is the minister’s house, with the center largest area reserved for the church and courtroom scenes. It’s the most elevated, Jacobs said, because of the importance of church and law in 17th century America.
Senior actor Harrison Kern plays the lead role of John Proctor. He cites the cramped spaces of the staging areas as his biggest challenge in the show.
“The small spaces make us feel confined,” Kern said, “and at times there are so many characters in the scene that it makes it difficult to breathe. The blocking is designed to be uncomfortable, and I think doing big emotional scenes in a tight space adds to the tension of the scene.”
Kern takes away a different message from the script. He believes Proctor is the definition of a tragic hero when he takes the fall for his wife.
“He made one mistake in his life,” Kern said, “and this play shows how even a strong-willed and good-hearted man can be taken down by a daft world.”
“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller
Jan. 15, 16, 17
Greenfield-Central High School
810 N. Broadway
$9 for adults
$7 for students
Reserve tickets at 317-462-9211 x 34121