director Theresa May
Chances are, you read Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible in school; perhaps you or a member of your family played a role. Maybe you’ve been to Salem, Massachusetts, or maybe your parents or grandparents remember the House on Un-American Activities Committee ( HUAC) and the Senate’s McCarthy hearings. Perhaps you have relatives who were brought up before the committee and accused of being “un-American” or who were asked to “name names.” Those of us who think of theatre as our family can name many playwrights, actors, and artists, who, like Arthur Miller, suffered under the run-away power of Joe McCarthy. Producing this play in 2012 invokes all this history and more – from the horrorific witch-hunts of the late 16th century, to the persecution and genocide of indigenous people, to justification of slavery and institutionalized racism; from the persecutions of Jews and gays, to the anti-immigration and anti-Arabic rhetoric in our own time – scapegoating is neither new nor unique in our common history.
Even as we look back, or look around in our society, one thing is for certain: scapegoating is always personal. It is personally executed, and personally felt. While “mob” mentality may have driven lynchings in the American south during the last century, and while a government policy of genocide drove Native people from their homelands, day-to-day actions and enforcements are always rooted in individual decisions by men and women of conscience, even if they choose not to use that conscience. Most of you may remember this play as a story of a man who refuses to name his friends (who are falsely accused), and ultimately dies for it. The Crucible is a Civic Myth, a hero’s tale. Circumstances send an ordinary man on a quest for his own soul and the soul of his community. As the play progresses, his quest increases in difficulty and risk, but also in revelation. Ultimately, his most profound discovery is his own goodness.
This play is also the story of 18 other people. Their stories are equally important for the ways in which they demonstrate what is possible in our own time when our civic and social lives are often infected by fear, power, and infatuation. The Crucible is a warning not only about the kind of mob-think that allowed the McCarthy hearings to proceed, but about the small and insidious ways in which rumors hurt, and sometime kill. We need this story as a kind of inoculation against social/civic hysteria, against the seduction of cults, against the daily routines in which being well-liked and included are easier than speaking out. The inoculation does not prevent or cure the infection so much as it gives us the strength and backbone to stand up during an epidemic. We are each implicated by each of these characters – Danforth too, like it or not – because their weaknesses are our own. I hope that our re-telling, re-purposed for our own time, might strengthen our capacity to take a stand in matters that affect livelihood, health and well-being of others.