BWW Review: THE CRUCIBLE at Barn Players
Spanish philosopher and atheist George Santayana famously warned "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Santayana died in late 1952 almost simultaneous with the premiere of Arthur Miller's Pulitzer Prize winning "The Crucible" in January 1953. The Barn Players production of Miller's play is eerily timely again because of today's nuclear charged political environment.
"The Crucible" tells the story of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials as allegory to the early 1950s Communist Witch Hunts fronted by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. The Salem Witch Trials accused 150 and hanged 19 individuals mainly for not admitting to witchcraft or for not pointing the finger of suspicion at their neighbors. The Congressional committees targeted members of the theatrical and literary communities as potential Communists.
Even though it was never illegal to be a member of the Communist Party, people were hauled up in front of Congress and coerced to "name names." Careers were ruined. Creators and performers were blacklisted. Many writers were forced to work under false names. The blacklist was finally broken in 1960 when producer and star Kirk Douglas declared blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo as the author of the screenplay to "Spartacus." President John Kennedy crossed protesters' picket lines to view the film and help end the blacklist.
Arthur Miller himself was subpoenaed to testify before the House Committee in 1956 as partial payback for "The Crucible." He refused to name names, and was found in Contempt of Congress for his First Amendment display of courage.
Today's daily proclamations of "fake news" and demands that journalists "name names of protected sources" bring the bad old days of the "Salem Witch Trials" and the "Red Scare" back to top of mind awareness. Congressional Committees and Special Counsels are accused of being on "Witch Hunts" as certain administration officials attempt to have it both ways. Audiences need to be reminded of what can happen when overlords run amuck.
Arthur Miller's "Crucible" is a subtle work of art, but it can and is being performed in a matter that can only be described as overwrought. Miller's attempt at 17th century language a la the King James version of the New Testament effects an almost faux Shakespearean aura in a not-so-good way. The best performances of Shakespeare tend to be more conversational. These actors tend to proclaim to the audience rather than to relate to each other. The script argues for this direction and that is why producers and directors need to be on guard. Miller himself was displeased with the original production for many of these same reasons.
One cannot help but be reminded of parts of MacBeth's most famous speech from Act V Scene 5. One must be careful of "a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage. And then is heard no more." It can be a "tale full of sound and fury... signifying nothing."
The Barn Production is ambitious. The actors work perhaps too hard. The ones that need to be singled out and recognized are Lauren Hambleton (Abigail Williams), Andy Penn (John Proctor), Phil Howard (Rev. Hale), Jessica Franz (Elizabeth Proctor), and Michael Juncker (Dep. Governor Danforth).
"The Crucible" is an important, if flawed, piece of theater that should be viewed over and over again if only to remind us what can happen if we allow our guards against excess, abuse, and authoritarianism to drop. "The Crucible" continues its run at the Barn Players through July 30. Tickets are available at www.thebarnplayers.org or by telephone at 913-432-9100.
Photo courtesy of The Barn Players.