The Crucible: A Puritan Guide to Witch-Hunting

Jaime Chu

Salem Witch Trials relived in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible"

 
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Against all odds: Stella Ziegler shines as Abigail Williams in a strong ensemble cast. Photo by MVHS Theatre Arts.

I knew MVHS Theatre Arts' "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller was a success when the girl next to me screamed almost as intensely as Abigail Williams (sophomore Stella Ziegler) when the actress screamed at a vision of a bird on stage. Few school plays I've attended elicited the same level of emotional involvement and response from the audience (the last one I went to, the audience aww-ed at the couple kissing) The play conveyed both the literary merit of Miller's allegory of McCarthyism and the intense theatrical experience of reliving the 1690s days of the Salem Witch Trials.

Part of the thrill comes from the ambitious cast, who wore more than just their Puritan shoes. Really, it is ironic when Reverend Parris (senior Nick Erickson) declares, "We are not Quakers here yet!" For, throughout the two-and-a-half-hour production, you find bonnet-wearing, cloak-draped Puritans raising their voices at each other every other line. Senior Cristapher Torres plays an angry John Proctor, the typical Puritan farmer who is the authority in his household and the loudest and deepest voice elsewhere. Although subtle but firm, Torres commanded little beyond his wife Elizabeth, especially in a strong ensemble cast. Erickson made an annoyingly shining star. The nit-picky reverend is brought to life in Erickson's pitch-fork-sharp voice and almost cartoonic signature nose-snorting, face-twisting sneer.

The more likely charmer is sophomore Stella Ziegler as antagonist Abigail Williams. By the heated trial in Act II, Ziegler's memorable performance, from the innocent I-don't-know to the mad, devil-seeing accuser, captured the spirit of the play, essence of her character, and shone with an aura perhaps rivaled only by Erickson. Senior Jeanette Deutsch, who played Elizabeth Proctor, was sadly dimmed by the character's cold unnerved-ness in bland, look-alike Puritan costume. But she gave a convincing performance nonetheless.

The resounding opening and ending mirrored one of a powerful literary work. "The Crucible" begins with young girls dancing in loose white dresses around a suspicious pool of red, which was later revealed to be chicken blood. Equally haunting, a flash of red that spanned across the backdrop brought the play to its tragic end. Incidentally, powerful devices such this made up for the occasional dimming or spot light which drew my attention away from the accusing Puritans to the control room ten rows back.

After two acts packed with severe biblical language expressing ideas that still live on in modern times, "The Crucible" incredibly captured the zeitgeist of an emotionally charged Puritan town. Simple and humble costumes and backdrops gave way to the more powerful aural and visual expressions from the actors. By the end of the night, witchery, the Devil, confession, and the motif of mystic drumming might sound just as familiar to you as they were to the residents in and about Salem.