Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is a classic of the modern American theater, and like all classics, it becomes particularly relevant during certain moments in history. These days, the phrase “witch hunt” gets bandied about with some regularity, and brings up a dark moment in America’s past. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and Miller’s play, which is based on these events, have become a short-hand for a certain kind of mass hysteria born of fear. A fear that allows blind faith, money and power to ruinously override goodwill, common sense and decency. It is also a play about truth; who is allowed to declare it, and who is assumed to have it. More importantly, to my mind, it illuminates biases about those we assume to be truthful, and those we assume are incapable of telling the truth.
Most of us have read The Crucible at one point in our lives, and it has become part of our cultural vocabulary. The details get blurry, but a few key points remain: women get put to death for things they may or may not have done, John Proctor is a flawed but ultimately good man, Abigail Williams is a vengeful harlot, adolescent girls are prone to hysteria. At the start of the rehearsal process, before we read through it, I had the actors write down all of the things they remembered about the characters. Most of the comments adhered to the cultural mythology about the play. Yet as we began to explore the work and ran a fine-tooth comb through every line, action and date, we discovered that our assumptions often didn’t hold up to textual analysis. The actions of the characters on the page were often at odds with the stage directions. As we moved through the rehearsal process, we held fast to the dialogue, assumed nothing and questioned everything. The result is a modern day, modern dress Crucible. A Crucible that, like all classics, illuminates our current preoccupations. A Crucible that resonates with this moment in time.