Friday, December 09, 2011

"The Crucible", by Arthur Miller, presented by Washington-Lee High School (Arlington VA) in an emotional production

Washington-Lee High School in Arlington VA, from which I graduated in 1961 (old building shown below), presents “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller as its “fall play” this year in its new theater (in a new high school building).  It’s directed by Keith Cassidy.

The program notes discuss well the way the play presents, with a setting in Massachusetts in 1692 with the Salem witch trials, an allegory to McCarthyism which was in full swing in 1952 when Miller wrote the play.
It’s amazing today, when anyone can write and self-publish and self-produce on the Web (and the current bill in Congress SOPA puts that in jeopardy – see my “BillBoushka” blog), that people could be blacklisted from working in Hollywood at all if they didn’t confess “something” before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and then “name names”.  The same sort of thing went on for years in the military with its campaign to pretend it did not have gays, even worse under “don’t ask don’t tell”, recently repealed. 

The production contained the usual four Acts (I think without the addendum near the end of the second Act -- ), and lasted about 2-1/2 hours with the intermission (which gave the presentation the character of two acts with two scenes each, as in opera). The "wide screen" stagecraft was extensive (plenty of crosses and nooses), and the acting (sometimes off-stage in balconies), particularly the “screaming”, passionate.  Most of us know the tragic end, where John Proctor (Jeffrey Warren) tears up his confession in order to avoid the public shaming for something he did not do.  The phrase “hang ‘em high” occurs (itself the name of a famous western).  The gallows come down in silence, but it is a kind of American Lynching.  Proctor’s actor is rather heavily made up for the final scene, with watercolors on his wrists to simulate blood.  A lot of cameras went up when he appeared for the scene.  I remember in seventh grade feeling uncomfortable about putting goo make-up on my hands for the innocent musical "The Sunbonnet Girl".

The chamber music score, by Connor Browne, is dark in tone, and contains a figure that reminds one of the slow introduction to Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony.   I was ready for the Allegro.

The audience included many members of the Cappies (Aug 5, 2007, "Senioritis"); I'm not sure if they helped produce it. 

When I substitute taught a few years ago, I had an English class where the audio from the last act of the drama was played from a simple CD.  There are lots of discussions centered around moral abstractions.  In the play, I thought a caught a line about having to have permission to write about someone in a pamphlet (imagine that on today’s Internet). It also seemed as though the townspeople make other people’s marriages and relationships very much their business, much as in soap operas. 

There was a major film in 1996 from 20th Century Fox, directed by Nicholas Hytner, of the play, which I saw when it came out at the old National Amusements (now Rave) property in Merrifield, now gone.  Daniel Day-Lewis, so completely body-shaved earlier for “The Last of the Mohicans” (another history lesson) is Proctor, and Winona Ryder (of shoplifting shame later) is Abigail.   I wonder how much of the cast has seen the film (PG-13, just barely).  

Some kids (AviOnyx) made a spoof of the last scene (as another high school English project), emphasizing the significance of publishing Proctor’s confession (as if on Facebook in public mode).  I guess this is a “derivative work”. 

Arthur Miller lived to about 90 (until 2005) and was incredibly prolific as an author.  He was Marilyn Monroe's last husband, and appears as a character (played by Dougray Scott) in the Weinstein Company's "My Life with Marilyn" (reviewed on my Movies blog on Dec. 6).

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