While the Delaware Valley surprisingly hasn’t experienced the dreaded dog days of summer typical of August, still there is an element of substantial heat simmering amongst the cast of Playcrafters as they prepare to bring Arthur Miller’s 1953 Tony Award Winning Play, The Crucible, to the main stage this week.
A story based in part by true events taken from the Salem Witch Trials of the late 17th century, The Crucible takes the audience on a journey of the tragic consequences stemming from gossip, envy, lies and misguided hearsays arising from a group of teenage girls in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Throw in some magic spells, satanic rituals, along with fierce imaginations, and the whole town is quickly bubbling in hysteria.
Set in four acts, “It’s a powerful play,” said veteran Director Curtis Cockenberg, Jr., of Miller’s work. “Miller has done some excellent writing. His writing flows… it’s musical and poetic. And it’s the kind of play you can close your eyes and listen to, and if you’re watching it, it’s incredible.”
In the opening scene, Reverend Parris (Eric Rupp) is concerned with his ailing daughter, Betty (Gillian Williams), and rumors are swirling that witchcraft is being performed around town at the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Putnams’ (Jean Navarra-Gibbons, Mark Glicksman) slave, Tituba (Andrea Westby). Meanwhile, farmer John Proctor (Anthony Marsala) is accused of having an affair with Abigail (Bishon Prushankin), his former maid, while she worked for him and his wife, Elizabeth (Carly Fried). As the apparent ring leader of the girls, Abigail threatens Betty along with Mary (Zoe Muller), Mercy (Renee Johnson), and Susanna (Rosemary Pandolfo), to keep quiet about their alleged practices with Tituba. Eventually, they soon give way to telling lies and spreading falsehood among the townsfolk. Dire consequences ensue. Other characters include: Reverend Hale (Philip Seader), Rebecca (Lori Maxwell), Francis (Geoff Randall), Giles(Rich Geller), Sarah (Natalie Madeira), Judge Hathorne (Andrew Maksymowych), Deputy Governor Dabforth (Ben Fried), Ezekiel Cheever/stage manager (Ken Uller), and John Williard/Hopkins (Pat McGurk).
The stage is set minimally with bare bones furniture reflecting the Puritan era, and the costumes are hand sewn and designed by Gay Hoyle.
In the end, there is death, but still the question remains of whether it is a moral victory in preserving the dignity of a person attempting to keep his name pure amid the tarnish.
“The cast has brought different interpretations to their roles,” according to Cockenberg, who once directed The Crucible 30 years ago. The depiction of the intolerance and hysteria that arose in the small New England town is an enduring theme that can spark in any close-knit community. In 17th century real life story, 19 people were hanged for witchcraft.
As life would imitate art, The Crucible once encountered its own sensational heat as the earlier version of the future classic-in-the-making was panned by the critics. Written at a time when anti-communist fervor was in its heyday, Miller wrote the allegorical take on the current events of the time when a “witch hunt” for potential communists—anyone even subtly involved in communism—was at the forefront, led by Senator Joe McCarthy.
“Miller is brilliant,” said Cockenberg of the timeless playwright, whose rendering of the flawed protagonist into making the ultimate decision is emotionally moving.
If you go: Playcrafters of Skippack presents The Crucible At the Barn, 2011 Store Road at Rt. 73 in Skippack, Pa. Performacnes to be held Aug. 21 to 23, Aug. 29 and 30, and Sept. 4- 6 at 8 p.m.; Aug. 31 at 3 p.m. For ticket information, please call 610-584-4005 or visit www.playcrafters.org.