Players Kicks Off 2016 with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
by Bob McLaughlin and John Lieder
Capping off the 2015 celebration of Arthur Miller’s 100th birthday, Community Players is presenting his 1953 drama of the Salem witch trials, The Crucible. Miller made use of the 1692 witch hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts—in which seemingly possessed young girls accused various adults of being the cause of their torments—as an allegory for the 1950s communist witch hunts. Miller himself was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify about his political past, and he was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to name others he knew to have attended Communist Party meetings. In this he contrasted himself with his friend and director of Death of a Salesman Elia Kazan, who had named names, effectively ending the careers of actors Morris Carnovsky and Art Smith, as well as playwright Clifford Odets, while preserving his own. In short, Miller saw in both seventeenth-century Massachusetts and 1950s Hollywood historical moments of intense social pressure in which only a few people would have the integrity not to sacrifice their principles.
The original Broadway production, starring Arthur Kennedy, E. G. Marshall, and Beatrice Straight, won the Tony Award for Best Play, and the play has since become an American classic, frequently read in high school classrooms and regularly revived on Broadway: in 1964, with Farley Granger and Denholm Elliott; in 1972, with Robert Foxworth and Pamela Payton-Wright; in 1991, with Martin Sheen and Michael York; in 2002, with Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. A new production, imported from London, is scheduled to open at the Walter Kerr Theater in April. The play has been filmed twice: first in a 1957 joint French and East German production, with screenplay by Jean-Paul Sartre; and again in 1996, from Miller’s own screenplay, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder.
Community Players’ production of The Crucible has a sizable cast of twenty-two very solid performers. Cassandra Conklin plays Betty Parris, Tom Smith is her father, Reverend Samuel Parris. Fania Bourne plays Rev. Parris’s slave, Tituba. Vicky Snyder is Rev. Smith’s niece and is the play’s main antagonist. Brian Artman plays the Reverend John Hale, brought into Salem to investigate the mysterious goings on in Salem and the possibility of witchcraft. Samuel James Willis portrays John Proctor and is the play’s main protagonist. Hannah Artman is his dutiful wife, Elizabeth, and Tricia Bagby is their housemaid, Mary Warren. George Freeman portrays Judge Hathorne and Nathan Bottorff-Gaik portrays Deputy-Governor Danforth.
Other members of the cast (residents of Salem and the surrounding area) are Angelina Throckmartin as Susanna Wallcott, Jennifer Maloy as Mrs. Ann Putnam, Paul Vellella as her husband Thomas Putnam, Cassie Greene as their servant Mercy Lewis. Nancy Nickerson is the venerable Rebecca Nurse, and Joe Culpepper is her husband Francis. Joe Strupek is Giles Corey, Quinn Biever is Ezekiel Cheever, Drew German is John Willard. Lizzy Selzer portrays Sarah Good, Alexis Godbee is Ruth Putnam and Mikayla Meyers is Beth Hubbard.
Kayla Jo Pulliam directs this tense, thrilling tale, Austin Travis is Assistant Director, and Chris Terven is Producer. Jen Gallivan is Costumer, Sarah Ackerman is Lighting Designer, Jacob Deter is Sound Designer, Cassandra Hustedt is Stage Manager, and Ramsey Hendricks is in charge of Properties and is also serving as Dramaturge. Unusual in a non-musical, the production staff includes a member in charge of Choreography/Stunting: Erica Watts has staged some very sophisticated and very physical stage movement. In addition to his duties as Producer, Chris Terven has designed and built a magnificent set. With a Sleepy Hollow-esqe spookiness, the set is framed by bare tree limbs and Sarah Ackerman’s lighting design intensifies the effect.
Although the language in The Crucible is relatively tame (we’re dealing with Puritans after all), some very intense situations are depicted and the play is not intended for the very young.
The pay-what-you-can preview performance is Thursday, January 14 with regular performances January 15-17 and 21-24. Remember, only two weekends for this non-musical.