ABOUT THE PLAY
First produced on Broadway in 1954, The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a fictionalization of the Salem witch trials of 1692, as well as a response to the panic caused by irrational fear of Communism during the Cold War, which resulted in the hearings by The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). According to playwright Miller, “The Crucible was an act of desperation. Much of my desperation branched out, I suppose, from a typical Depression-era trauma. The blow struck on the mind by the rise of European Fascism and the brutal anti-Semitism it had brought to power. But by 1950, when I began to think of writing about the hunt for Reds in America, I was motivated in some great part by the paralysis that had set in among many liberals who, despite their discomfort with the inquisitors’ violations of civil rights, were fearful, and with good reason, of being identified as covert Communists if they should protest too strongly.”
“The play stumbled into history,” Miller explained in his 1996 New Yorker article entitled, Why I Wrote The Crucible: An Artist’s Answer to Politics. “…today, I am told, it is one of the most heavily demanded trade-fiction paperbacks in this country; the Bantam and Penguin editions have sold more than six million copies. I don’t think there has been a week in the past forty-odd years when it hasn’t been on a stage somewhere in the world.”
The English Oxford dictionary defines a crucible as: 1) A ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures; or 2) A situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new. Miller’s theatrical masterpiece lives up to the definition of its title.
Set in the small Puritan village of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, The Crucible is a masterfully crafted exploration of the impact of hysteria and paranoia on a close knit community. As the story unfolds, we meet a community in crisis, caught in the wake of extraordinary external pressures and powerful internal conflicts. A group of young women has been caught dancing in the woods with Reverend Parris’s slave, Tituba. Strange behaviors reveal themselves soon after leading the village to believe their community has been touched by witchcraft and, indeed, is under attack by a subversive plot of evil to overturn everything in which they have come to trust.
“The assumption is that there’s an exterior threat,” Miller explains. “In the case of the Puritan New England, it was from the Devil. The Devil existed as a person, and as he does in America today for a lot of people. When that started to move for the people – that idea that there were adherents of the Devil living in the village – the next question was, ‘who are they and what do we do with them?’ Well in the Bible it says, ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’ That’s all they needed, and so they went around looking for witches.”
“The breathtaking circularity of the process had a kind of poetic tightness,” claims Miller. “Not everybody was accused, after all, so there must be some reason why you were. By denying that there is any reason whatsoever for you to be accused, you are implying, by virtue of a surprisingly small logical leap, that mere chance picked you out, which in turn implies that the Devil might not really be at work in the village or, God forbid, even exist. Therefore, the investigation itself is either mistaken or a fraud. You would have to be a crypto-Luciferian to say that – not a great idea if you wanted to go back to your farm.”
“As with most humans, panic sleeps in one unlighted corner of my soul,” Miller admitted. “When I walked at night along the empty, wet streets of Salem in the week that I spent there, I could easily work myself into imagining my terror before a gaggle of young girls flying down the road screaming that somebody’s ‘familiar spirit’ was chasing them.” As the action of the play unfurls, families are torn apart and legacies destroyed, leaving one to wonder if the nightmare will ever stop. “I am not sure what The Crucible is telling people now,” Miller explained. “But I know that its paranoid center is still pumping out the same darkly attractive warning that it did in the fifties.”
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
This production of The Crucible continues PCPA’s longstanding commitment to enhancing the dramatic literacy of students and the cultural literacy of the community by bringing challenging American classics to the stage. Having directed over 60 productions at PCPA since 1988, Associate Artistic Director, Roger DeLaurier, feels Arthur Miller’s masterpiece is a play of big ideas that asks some important questions especially pertinent to what some might term a “post-truth” society. Among its many evocative inquiries, the play examines what happens when ‘spectral evidence’ – testimony that the accused person’s spirit appears to and/or acts upon the witness when the accused person’s body is somewhere else – is accepted as objective, observable fact. The play is both a domestic and psychological drama, weaving and revealing intensely intimate relationships and personal identity issues within a much larger panorama of societal conflicts. According to DeLaurier, “The Puritans of Massachusetts were a religious faction who, after years of suffering persecution themselves, developed a strong sense of community to guard against infiltration from outside sources. It is this paradox that Miller finds to be a major theme of The Crucible: ‘in order to keep the community together, members of the community believed that they must in some sense tear it apart.’” Hence, the play also serves as both a historical drama as well as a remarkably current social and moral allegory. “Written in 1953, Miller’s drama holds particular significance in the current political environment,” DeLaurier says, “and is an important and compelling work for our audience, our students, and ourselves.”
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Arthur Miller, born in New York City in 1915, is considered one of the greatest American playwrights of our time. Author of award-winning plays like Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, and The Crucible, Miller questions “death and betrayal, and injustice and how we are to account for this little life of ours.” As a student at the University of Michigan, Miller began writing plays, joining the federal Theater Project in New York City after he received his degree. His work has received accolades ranging from the Drama Critics’ Circle Award to the Tony Award and the coveted Pulitzer Prize. In defining the role of the playwright in society, Miller claimed, “Great drama is great questions or it is nothing but technique. I could not imagine a theater worth my time that did not want to change the world.”