…Beware the bewitching power of lies.
Mission Viejo High School Drama’s spectacular and engrossing show, "The Crucible," opened Thursday evening, November 1st at the Mission Viejo High School Theatre under Director Kathy Cannarozzi-Harris’ expert guidance, and turned playwright Arthur Miller’s words into the stark reality that was Salem Village, Massachusetts in 1692. Splendidly acted and strongly written, the play was originally designed as an allegory about McCarthyism and tackles many contentious subjects, including sexism, racism, religious intolerance and the nature of due process in the justice system.
Salem Village at that time was a center of discord from many different sources—refugees from King William’s War flooded the town, straining resources and agitating farming families who made their living from the local port. As a devout and strongly religious community living in near isolation in the mysterious New World, the community of Salem had a heightened sense of fear of the Devil and, as a result, it didn’t take much to convince the villagers that there was evil among them. Adding to the anxiety in the air was a newer, more anti-religious charter against the Puritans, who were basing their laws on religious beliefs and discriminating against Anglicans. The Puritans had left England to get away from religious persecution, and feared they were losing control of their religion. That political instability and threat to their way of life created a feeling of uneasiness and discontent in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The Puritan lifestyle expected members of the society to follow a strict moral code. Due to this fact, anything that was believed to go against this code was considered a sin and deserved to be punished. Even not regularly attending church was considered sin and the community felt that it was their duty to rid themselves of such sinners, since they were easy targets for the Devil and witchcraft. Those who were considered to be social deviants, outcasts, merchants, tradesmen and others who threatened traditional Puritan values were looked at suspiciously. Therefore, when difficulties in the community began to arise, the blame was easily placed on the “witches” that were carrying out his work for him.
Miller’s play depicts characters – many of them real-life figures – caught up in the turmoil of the famous Witch Trials, and focuses primarily on one of the accused, John Proctor, an earthy farmer who has cheated on his wife, Elizabeth, and how his world collapses as profound hysteria swirls within the community to the point that he is also accused of witchcraft.
Onto that stage steps the Reverend Samuel Parris (Charlie Massey), whose daughter, Betty Parris (Brigit Colwell), lies motionless in bed. At the same time, the village has suddenly become a hotbed of gossip and is rife with rumors of witchcraft. Baffled at Betty’s continuing lack of response, the Reverend blames it on a scene from the previous evening, when he discovered his daughter dancing with many other young girls in the forest, including his Barbadian slave, Tituba (Satouri Robins), who had looked as though she was engaged in some sort of pagan ritual. He questions the girls' apparent ringleader, his niece Abigail Williams (Rachel Golkin), who Parris had been forced to adopt after her parents were brutally killed in the Pequot War.
Abigail denies they were engaged in witchcraft, claiming that they had just been dancing. Rather than suffer severe and inevitable punishment for their actions, the girls, led by Abigail, accused other inhabitants of Salem of practicing witchcraft. Ironically, the girls avoided punishment by blaming others of the very things of which they were guilty. Parris, fearing for his position as local rector, reluctantly reveals that he has invited Reverend John Hale (Adnan Maksoud), an expert in witchcraft and demonology, to come into the community to investigate.
There followed over 200 accusations of witchcraft, until finally the whole town is aroused and 19 men and women go to the gallows for being possessed of the Devil, along with two dogs. A twentieth dies by "pressing" - by having rocks piled on his chest until he is crushed. They are all good men and women - upright, hardworking, compassionate and God-fearing.
It’s a gripping tale, and the twists and turns in the story have not faded with time. Director Harris gets strong performances out of the entire ensemble cast, led by Ethan Cox’s resolute, focused performance as John Proctor. Mr. Cox does an excellent job of portraying the excruciating rage and torment of the upright Proctor as he finds within himself the courage to be hanged rather than confess to inculpable wickedness.
Ms. Golkin is wonderfully indelicate as Abigail Williams, the malicious temptress who accuses Proctor of witchcraft as revenge for spurning her affections. She is utterly chilling as she manipulates her accusers with cool ingenuity. Emily Boyer brings a fragile nobility and pained restraint to the role of John Proctor’s goodwife, Elizabeth, and Jenna Bowman is headstrong and wayward as Mary Warren, the house servant who ends up playing an important role in Proctor’s trial. Mr. Maksoud is disquieting in his even-toned Reverend Hale, who, with guilt-ridden conscience, starts as Proctor’s chief accuser but ends up defending his character with the courts.
Mr. Massey brings vitriolic and self-righteous tones as the accusatory Reverend Parris, and Danny Sheikh is fearsome as Judge Hathorne. Brandon Wagner plays faithful Marshall John Willard, and Carson Roman is impressive as the Deputy Governor Danforth, determined to eradicate witchcraft, and who is come to give judgement - bland, icy and relentless. Viewing the proceedings as an opportunity to cement his power and influence, he eagerly convicted anyone brought before him. His refusal to suspend the trials even as they tore Salem apart makes him the true malefactor of the play.
There is superb support and plenty of standouts: Susanna Walcott is played by Kayla Holliday, The Putnams are portrayed by Anna DiCamillo and Jacob Beaver, McKenzie Norris is Mercy Lewis, Sarah Smith exemplifies Rebecca Nurse, Makenna Kobayashi is Martha Corey and Giles Corey is played by Logan Booth. Liam Shannon is remarkable as Francis Nurse, Shane Shamas plays Ezekiel Cheever and Madison Watts is Sarah Good. Rounding out the cast is Jonah Bernstein as Hopkins and Emy Francisco as Ruth Putnam. The Girls are represented by Mia Hanson, Sophia Berry, Sofia Migliaccio, and Townspeople were played by Andrew Gallo and Natalee Marquez. The whole production is a work of bold simplicity, yet grips you like the most complex thriller. The action’s willful slowness is often exhilarating, and the performances pulse with bruising physicality.
The stark comparison reflecting today’s current events rang true throughout the gripping saga, which was emphasized even more from the modernization of the costuming within the show. Cast members who usually are garbed with bonnets, long, faded dresses and aprons, or the flowery attire of gents in those days were upgraded to suit and tie for the men, short, plaid, school skirts, blouses for the ladies, and even a few shoulder purses. That variance had no effect on the power of the play, however. In fact, Rachel Golkin’s costuming may have further drawn us into the plot of the story, as the cast was more relatable, although it seemed that the second act was more true to the era.
The set was constructed by Matthew White’s Stagecraft Class, who also handled the superb spot-on Lighting. Sound Design was managed by Brandon Wagner and Shane Shamas, which combined brooding sounds and special effects that created a shadowy atmosphere. The digital projection which reinforced the action on stage added greatly to the cold, woodsy ambiance of the girls dancing before a fire.
“The Crucible” grabs you within the first five minutes, becoming a totally absorbing experience you project yourself into. That’s the power of Miller’s writing, letting us feel strongly about the play’s overwhelming structural brilliance, rather than offering solutions. It’s not that Miller isn’t interested in characters, it’s that he sees society as a kind of Über-character, and not as a very magnanimous one.
With only three days of performance, November 1st – 3rd, Mission Viejo High School’s last visit to Salem is tonight at 7pm. The address is 25025 Chrisanta Drive, Mission Viejo, CA. This show is Highly, Highly Recommended for extreme emotional value, and tickets are available at the door, or on Seat Yourself at https://search.seatyourself.biz/webstore/accounts/missionviejo/buy-tix?d=0&event=.
National Youth Arts