It is an unsettling coincidence that Freddie Ashley, artistic director of the Actor’s Express, pulled the script of “The Crucible” off of the shelf, hired renowned actors and decided to show the classic play Jan. 21-Feb. 19 for audiences all around Atlanta. With the recent inauguration of our 45th president, there has been fear for the rights of women, fear of the discrimination of races and the fear and chaos that came with the president’s travel ban in the United States.
In his artistic director’s note, Ashley mentions how “Political discourse of the most recent election has given to shrill ad hominem.” Arthur Miller wrote “The Crucible” in response to the Red Scare happening in America at the time. During the Red Scare, there was a fear of communism in the country as a result of the intensification of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1947, Truman passed an executive order known as the “Loyalty Order” which was put into place to weed out the communists in the country. This order served as a prelude to the rise of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the ultimate weed whacker. Federal employees were analyzed to make sure they were not supporting the communist cause, and Senator McCarthy and his committee investigated allegations of potential communists in the country. If a person was suspected, they were given a choice. If they confessed to being communist, they could avoid being persecuted by naming five more people they knew were communists, or if they did not confess they would be persecuted for withholding the truth about their “communist beliefs”. For fear of losing their jobs and not being able to support their family, quite a few people would accuse others of being communist knowing that many were innocent. Miller was himself accused of believing in the communist cause. Many innocent people went to jail and suffered the consequences of a government that was run by fear.
“The Crucible” premiered on Broadway in 1953, starring E.G. Marshall (John Proctor) and Madeleine Sherwood (Abigail Williams). Even though the play was criticizing the current government’s fear of communism, the production won the 1953 Tony award for best play and the soon became a classic.
“The Crucible” is set in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of Salem in 1692 right at the time when the first witches of the Salem Witch trials were being accused. This colony was made up of Puritans who were serious sticklers to religion and believed in the constant threat of the Devil. When Betty Paris, the daughter of the head Reverend of Salem (played by Lucy Gross), falls sick, chaos erupts and neighbors start pointing fingers and breathing the word “witchcraft.” A group of teenagers in Salem, led by Abigail Williams (played by Shelli Delgado), starts accusing fellow Salem villagers of witchcraft. Those accused must either confess and name more “witches” in the town, or face death by hanging. Just like many people in the Red Scare that Miller witnessed, many innocent Salem residents were hanged as a result of fear and unnecessary allegations of witchcraft. John Proctor, Miller’s protagonist in the play played by Jonathan Horne, is stuck in the middle of the chaos and fear of the town of Salem once his wife is accused by Abigail Williams. Throughout the play, Proctor attempts to convince the court of the absurdity of the accusations, and to find out if he succeeds you will have to buy a ticket and see for yourself.
Walking into the theatre, you may notice a huge branch hanging above your head. The scenic designers did a magnificent job in transforming the theatre into the gloomy town of Salem. The audience seats were positioned on both sides of the stage which only had a single wooden bed and a table on it. The simplicity of the set reflects the plain and strict life of the Puritans who were the residents of Salem in 1692. Although there were many outstanding performances by individual actors such as Shelli Delgado (Abigail Williams), one in particular stood out to me. Jonathan Horne played the role of John Proctor, who in the play is the impetus of change and the source of hope. Not only did Horne manage to memorize copious amounts of dialogue, but each phrase and sentence that came out of his mouth had such intense emotion and strength that it kept me on the edge of the seat. Horne gives a powerful and moving performance that takes the play to a superior level.
If you find yourself in Atlanta any time soon, stop by the Actor’s Express and enter into the year 1692 where fear ruled the town of Salem. “The Crucible” is read in many high schools around Atlanta to expose teens to the themes and consequences of fear, guilt, and hypocrisy. Teens currently reading this play may realize the frightening similarity between the plot and themes in Miller’s work and the present-day Donald Trump America. The consequences of mass panic and fear in “The Crucible” was present in the 1950s with the Red Scare, and it still haunts us to this very day. Through the story of the Salem witch trials, Miller demonstrates that augmented fear leads to mass chaos. Even though “The Crucible” might not have the most ideal ending, it brings hope that the fear that overshadows the town of Salem will be conquered. It is that same hope that we need to grab hold of today to stay strong during these discriminatory, emotional and frightful times to ensure America will not explode into chaos.
“The Crucible” runs through Feb. 19.at Actor’s Express. For more info or tickets, go to the Actor’s Express website.