History has shown us unbridled fear left unchecked. When fear is the guiding force for an individual or society, beliefs of right and wrong are tainted. The result is chaos, the distortion of truth, and the destruction of life’s innate goodness.
Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “The Crucible” deftly illustrates the parallel of the Salem witch trials in 1693 Massachusetts and the 1950s McCarthy hearings to root out communism during what is referred to as “The Red Scare.” Miller was accused of supporting communism and expected to name others.
Eastern Mennonite University Theater reimagines “The Crucible” as an allegory for today’s society in a soul-searching production that premieres in the Studio Theater this fall. Professor Justin Poole, theater program director, hopes the performance sparks conversations so “we can learn from our mistakes,” he said.
This production will likely unsettle, offend, and leave you asking, ‘What now?’ That’s the goal. Some of the best art challenges us, and at EMU Theater we strive to make art that matters.”Justin Poole, director, ‘The Crucible’
“The Crucible” runs Oct. 28-Nov. 5, in the Studio/Blackbox Theater, University Commons. Performances are 7 p.m. Oct. 28, 29, Nov. 3, 4, and 5, and 2 p.m. Oct. 30.
Reserved seating only. Adults,$20; Senior (65+), non-EMU students or child (0-18), $18; EMU students, $6. Discounts are available for groups of ten or more. Click on the link above or call 540-432-4582 between 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. weekdays. Online tickets subject to a $2/ticket processing fee. Online tickets are available until 2 hours prior to each performance. Tickets at the door are an additional $2/ticket with the exception of EMU students. Show length is three hours. Intermission.
‘Into the action’
Seated on all four sides of the stage, the audience will be “immersed in this environmentally-staged version,” Poole said, “to experience the parallels between the Salem witch trials, the Red Scare, and today’s society.”
“The seating, surround-sound techniques and atmospheric audio brings each audience member into the action,” said assistant director Hannah Landis, who also portrays Reverend Hale. “Everyone gets to be right there with our characters, in our story.”
For actor Joseph Seitz, the key word for the show is intimacy. Seitz, a 2022 graduate, portrays John Proctor. “It’s almost a median between stage and film. The music provided by Perry Blosser ‘18 and Joseph Harder ’20, alongside the intimacy of the space creates an almost film-like detail, but with live theater. It’s quite the treat.”
The intimacy created by the studio theater also gives the actors unique perspective, said Anna Hoover, a senior carrying a theater minor in addition to her chemistry major. Hoover will portray Elizabeth Proctor, who along with her husband, John, is accused of witchcraft. “Every subtle expression from the actors can be seen by the audience only an arm’s length away. I think this helps my character greatly. Elizabeth is a subtle character but her face shows her thoughts rather than her words.”
Character study divulges the personal and political
Poole’s direction is guiding the ensemble to delve deeply into their characterizations. Seitz’s character-building comes from “introspection, direction and discussion,“ he said. “As much personal reflection as I do, sometimes I need to take myself out of my own ideas of what the character should be like, and give Justin’s direction a shot, or earnestly listen to the interpretations of others. It’s been a thought-provoking process.”
For Landis, portraying Hale has given her a deeper understanding of her own beliefs and judgements. She is discovering her character’s motivations through her own self inquiry. “What beliefs could I hold strongly that are actually inaccurate and misguided? How often do I cling to one single story, when a true investigation could reveal my ignorance and influence my thought processes for the better?” she said, “And if I recognize this about myself yet choose to prioritize my current beliefs over expanding my worldview, as some characters in the show do, what does that say about the beliefs I’m trying to cling to in the first place?”
Each character has both a personal and a political side, said Hoover. Her character, Elizabeth, is a political representation of the people McCarthy accused of being communists. “But personally, she is a woman who has been betrayed by her husband, sees the fraud for what it is but can do little about it.”
Much of the story’s conflict is driven by the fear of the townspeople and the judges, which keeps them from seeing the full picture, Hoover said, “and shows them spirits where there are none. I think this is something to keep in mind when looking at the turmoil of today.”
Landis, Hoover and Seitz reflected on the impact of Miller’s play. The wisdom they’ve gained as actors is inspiring and holds true for today’s world.
“The characters we present in Salem are forcefully uprooted from their comfortable beliefs, and I challenge us to do the same,” said Landis.
“Instead of focusing on the hate being spewed,” Hoover said, “ask yourself what fear is motivating that hate and how can I help alleviate that fear.”
Seitz says he’s more aware than ever of “the disastrous consequences of viewing people through a strictly black or white lens. Perhaps rather than labeling people internally as good or bad, we can hold both the triumphs and follies of people at the same time.”
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John Proctor: Joseph Seitz
Elizabeth Proctor: Anna Hoover
Abigail Williams: Greta Shrag
Reverend Hale: Hannah Landis
Deputy Governor Danforth: MaKayla Baker Paxton
Mary Warren: Eileen Hernon
Ann Putnam/Sarah Good/Susanna Walcott: Ani Beitzel
Reverend Samuel Parris: Andrew Stoltzfus
Giles Corey: Shannon Dove
Thomas Putnam/Francis Nurse: Bradley Kirkdorffer
Tituba/Judge Hawthorne: Liz Marin
Mercy Lewis: Alexis Lewis
Betty Parris: Molly Piwonka
Rebecca Nurse: Rachel Herrick
Ezekiel Cheever: Josiah Esch
John Willard: Nicholas Murch
Director: Justin Poole
Assistant Director: Hannah Landis
Collaborative Musicians: Perry Blosser and Joseph Harder
Choreographer: Ellie de Waal
Scene Designer: Shannon Dove
Lighting Designer: Robert Weaver
Stage Manager: Emma Nord
Assistant Stage Managers: Sarah Peak, Jordyn Thompson, Jordyn Dixon
Technical Director: Shannon Dove
Costume Designer and Shop Manager: Rachel Herrick
Construction and Technical Crew: Anna Hoover, Adam Hoover, Makayla Pettus, Jordyn Thompson, Alexis Lewis
Public Relations Coordinator: Alexis Lewis
Cast Photographs: Cassidy Walker
House Manager: Makayla Pettus
Box Office Manager: Sarah Regan
Theater Administrative Assistant: Daniel De Tablan
Production Assistants: Hailey Holcomb and Ezrionna Prioleau