Back Stage Review: ‘The Crucible’ at Bruka Theater

Review and Photos by Dana Nollsch

Analysis by Norm Robins

Truth is in the eye of the powerful, and as we have learned power is a catalyst for corruption.  Bruka’s production of “The Crucible” explores this concept in dramatic style.

In Bruka’s production of “The Crucible” we find ourselves in a southern town in the late 1950s where the church is the center of the community and indeed the center of power. This power is manipulated by several of the girls from the community when they are discovered playing in the woods with what appears to be witchcraft. The learned men who are sent to investigate these accusations see this as an opportunity to express their power and feed the ego that drives them.

This story is based on the infamous Salem Witch Trials where hundreds were accused and 19 people were put to death. This is the classic tale of power and mob mentality that should always be remembered.

Here are some photos to whet your appetite.

As for the Bruka’s production of “The Crucible”,  in a word, Powerful,  Dramatic, and Savvy, Wait! That’s three words. There is no way to describe this production in just one word. This is a big play with lots of players and deep lessons, all blended together intensely by the talented cast and the reflective direction of Holly Natwora.

Here are the director notes from Holly, I think reading her notes will give you an insight into her intent and desire to create something very special.


Director’s Note
By Holly Natwora
Director, The Crucible
 
For most people The Crucible conjures up images of witches and Puritans in a small New England village a long time ago.  As I began work on this play I was quickly struck by the religious fundamentalism and how that religion was used to oppress and control those living under its rule.  As our nation faces increasing intolerance and fanaticism, I believe there is no better time to reexamine The Crucible in a modern context.  Classics become classics by their ability to transcend time and speak to the universal themes of humanity.  What is Evil?  What is Truth?  How do we forgive the trespasses of others?  Is it possible to love thy neighbor as thyself?  What is the difference between integrity and self-righteousness?  The Crucible stands as a testament to the perils of allowing individual rights to be subjugated to the will of those in power and the current trend to believe that if you say something enough it becomes the truth regardless of the facts, oftentimes preying upon the misguided fears of an uninformed public.  In a world where social media has the ability to ruin private lives in the court of public opinion and those who oppose governmental authority are often labeled un-American or unpatriotic, The Crucible remains as relevant today as it was during the time it was written by Arthur Miller as a rebuttal the McCarthyism and the hysteria it created.  The Constitution upon which this nation was built clearly mandates the separation of church and state, due process under the law and religious freedom.  We are a country founded by people who were persecuted for what they believed and yet we remain a country divided.  The ability to oppress begins when society labels certain groups as being dangerous or undesirable.  The witch hunt has begun…which side are you on?
 
Peace,
Holly

Here is what you will get when you go see “The Crucible”. The cast of talented performers have worked hard for quite some time to embody their characters and I have to say that these are some of the best performances I have seen from these talented performers. If you are looking to see some powerful performances you must see Bruka’s production of “The Crucible”. The story did at times bring up powerful emotions of frustration as I witnessed the injustice brought about by power hungry ego driven men and women. You will not get a happy ending, I think you already knew that, but you will be witness to a world-class production of a classic story with deeper lessons that should be headed in our modern times.

Please read the analysis by Norm Robins after the cast list to get a much deeper insight into the history of “The Crucible”.

CAST LIST

ABIGAIL WILLIAMS……………………………….NATALIE MOORE

REVEREND PARRIS………………………………..   JESSE JAMES ZIEGLER

REVEREND HALE………………………………….    GREGORY J. KLINO

JOHN PROCTOR…………………………………….BRADFORD D. KA’AI’AI

ELIZABETH PROCTOR…………………………….SOHPIE MOELLER

MARY WARREN……………………………………     RILEY MCKINNEY

MERCY LEWIS………………………………………ALEXANDRIA PAULETTO

SUSANNA WALCOT……………………………….    BROOKE TOUSLEY

BETTY PARRIS ……………….…………………………..REESE KVAAL

TITUBA ………………………………………………PAT ESTERS

ANN PUTNAM …..…………………………………….EVONNE KEZIOS

THOMAS PUTNAM ……………….……………….. KEVIN MCCRAY

REBECCA NURSE …………………….………..……JACQUELINE KING

FRANCIS NURSE ……………………………………………..LENNY PUSTILNICK

GILES COREY……………………………………….JOEL BARBER

MARSHAL HERRICK ……………………………………….MATT DENNEY

GOVERNOR DANFORTH …………………………..CHIP ARNOLD

JUDGE HAWTHORNE ………………………………MICHAEL PETERS

SARAH GOOD ………………………………….…… NANCY PODEWILSBABA

UNDERSTUDY FOR ANN PUTNAM …………….…MICHELLE CALHOUN

The Crucible will be performed April 26 through May 12, 2019, with two matinees on April 28th and May 12th.  The theater is located at 99 N. Virginia, Reno. 

For more information contact Brüka at www.bruka.org.

Playwright Arthur Miller’s Cri de Couer

The Crucible

An analysis by Norm Robins

Set designer Lew Zaumeyer may have made a mistake, but it is better to believe he did it on purpose.  It would show more than keen intelligence.  It would show a flair for the delicate, for the nuanced.  The back wall of the set for The Crucible is a stained glass church window with a large cross in front of it.  In front of that there is an elevated pulpit with the Ten Commandments written on a tablet in front of it.  The careful viewer will see while it says Ten Commandments at the top of the tablet there are only eight there.  There are two horizontal pencil lines below them ready to accept the last two should Lew write them there.  The two missing ones are you shall not covet what your neighbor has, and you shall not bear false witness.

And that’s what Miller’s play is all about.  It’s about bearing false witness and coveting what one’s neighbors has, be it mate or land.  Let’s define our terms first.  If I envy Jay Leno his car collection it means I would like one just like his.  If I covet his car collection it means I want to take away his cars and have them for my own.  If I lie I am saying something that isn’t true.  It might be a little white lie to make a child believe there really is a Santa Claus or a tooth fairy.  If I testify of a wrongdoing but all the witnesses deny it, I’m bearing false witness.  If Lew fills in the last two Commandments one will lose this very helpful window into what is ahead in the play, what this play is all about.

Playwright Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible during the red scare and its ensuing political hysteria of the 1950s.  In 1949 the Chinese the communist forces of Mao Zedong defeated the American backed army of Chiang Kai Shek, who withdrew his forces to the island citadel of Taiwan.  China became firmly communist and a proselytizer for the communist cause.  Russia was lost to the communists in 1917, and Eastern Europe followed after World War II.  India was visibly enamored with the Soviet Union following their post-War liberation from Britain, and Southeast Asia could be charitably called unstable with communist insurgencies all over the place.  And Africa?  South America?  Awful, simply awful.  The reaction of the U.S. government was pure hysteria.  Communism seemed unstoppable.  It was on the move, and it was coming here, and it had to be stopped.

Could communism come here?  In the 1950s a young senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, publicly announced that more than 200 card-carrying communists had infiltrated the U.S. Government and were conducting subversive activities.  McCarthy was a senator, but the major damage was done by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the HUAC.  What they all did was called McCarthyism.  People suspected of being members of the Communist Party were unmasked, humiliated, and forced to testify and name others who were suspected of these activities.  Many, including Arthur Miller was called to testify and name others.  Miller testified, but refused to “name names”.  Many so named lost their passports, were jailed, and blackballed.  They lost their jobs without hope for another.  Some committed suicide under the stress.  One, Dalton Trumbo, was forced to write clandestinely under the names of sympathetic and friendly other writers.

The communist hunters focused on Hollywood because it was known to have actors, directors, and playwrights sympathetic to communism.  For intellectuals at the time this was considered chic.  During World War II we allied with Stalin’s Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany.  Hollywood had very successfully molded public opinion during World War II to think of the Soviets, especially “Uncle Joe” as they called Stalin, as the good guys.  Washington understood Hollywood’s power of persuasion.  In the early to mid-1940s the Soviets were our pals.  They were our brothers in arms.  In the 1950s, however, everything changed quickly and dramatically.  With the fall of China communists became our enemies.  The barbarians were at the gates.

For many of the accused caught up in McCarthyism’s witch hunt it was better to get along by going along.  It was better to protect your paycheck when you had a mortgage, a car payment, and two kids in college.  It was better to do what you were told to do and “name names”, and the truth be damned.  Such were the 1950s.

In 1952 Miller wrote The Crucible.  The brain is a peculiar organ.  The left side is what performs logical analysis.  The right side is the seat of intuitive reasoning, emotional thought, romance, and even poetry.  McCarthyism appealed to the right brain.  Hysteria always does.  We weren’t yet ready to engage our logical brain.  So to lash out at the injustices of McCarthyism it would be better to write allegorically about witch trials.  They were different.  Contemporary society in the 1950s had firmly anchored these trials in the logical left brain.  A logical analysis told us they were evil if not comical.  And evil they indeed were.  Over 200 people were tried for witchcraft at an earlier time.  19 of them were found guilty and hanged.

The play opens in the home of Reverend Samuel Parris.  Before the beginning of the play Parris’s 10-year-old daughter Betty and his niece Abigail have been seen by Parris cavorting in the woods outside of town.  With them was his black slave Tituba seen making strange motions over a cauldron and an open fire.  She was muttering strange, unintelligible incantations.  Afterward at Parris’s house, Betty falls into unconsciousness and has yet to recover.  The local doctor is called in.  He suspects witchcraft and says so.

But the play goes deeper than that.  We find that the protagonist John Proctor had a sexual affair with the seventeen-year-old Abigail while she was working for Proctor.  At the time his wife Elizabeth was sick.  She therefore dismissed Abigail from their service.  But Abigail, Proctor’s antagonist, covets Proctor.  She fantasizes he will get rid of Elizabeth and marry her.  But Abigail for all her youthful age is not a naïf, an innocent.  She is a manipulative, vindictive, thoroughly immoral woman.  She is covetous.  She bears false witness—again and again and again and against anyone who stands in her way.

Abigail accuses Elizabeth among others of witchcraft.  It works.  Elizabeth is convicted.  Abigail learns to lust for power as she discovers she is good at it and it works for her.  Her witchcraft scare goes like wildfire through the community, and everyone is taken in by it.  Proctor says,

Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God’s fingers? I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem—vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!

Proctor is also accused of witchcraft.  The accusation sticks.  But Proctor is ridden with guilt because his adultery condemns him in the eyes of God.  He is convinced to falsely admit to witchcraft to do penance.  He needs redemption from God and forgiveness from his wife.  He signs the accusation.  His accusers want to nail his false confession to the church door, but this is more than he is willing to do.  He is willing to falsely confess to a crime, and he is willing to hang, but he is unwilling to sully his good name.  Proctor is then offered his life if he admits the confession is false.  He says

(with a cry of his whole soul): Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!

Elizabeth gets a chance to testify that the confession is false, but she refuses to do so.  She sees Proctor has made peace with his God and himself.  She is unwilling to destroy this salvation by telling the truth.  Proctor goes to his death at the gallows.

Here Proctor is not speaking but playwright Miller is.  Miller is speaking for himself.  This is Miller’s cri de Coeur, his anguished cry of the heart.  The play cries out that denying accused people a right to the presumption of innocence and a right to due process is more than unconstitutional.  It is evil.  It was so in the 1950s as it is today.

The play doesn’t have a happy ending, but Miller’s story does.  Miller was convicted of contempt of Congress, fined, and sentenced.  In 1958 his conviction was overturned on appeal.  He got back his good name.

This play is firmly planted in the pantheon of great American dramatic literature.  It is embedded in our national ethos.  Even though we go through periodic spasms of illogical hysteria we always return.  We always have and we always will.  It is in our gene pool.  It is in the air we breathe and the water we drink.  Go see this play.  This play is important.

This ensemble piece is beautifully played by everyone in the cast.  Holly Natwora’s direction is strong and compelling.  Lew Zaumeyer’s sets are well thought out, doubly so if, during the run of the play, he leaves the last two Commandments off the tablet.  So many performances were outstanding, Natalie Moore’s Abigail, Jesse James Ziegler’s Reverend Parris, Gregory Klino’s Reverend Hale, Pat Esters’ Tituba, Chip Arnold’s Governor Danforth, Bradford Ka’ai’ai’s John Proctor, Sophie Moeller’s Elizabeth Proctor, and the list goes on and on to include all 19 cast members.

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