Arthur Miller’s powerful 1953 allegory of McCarthyism, The Crucible, comes in the form of the Salem witch trials of 1692 – 1693 in the province of Massachusetts Bay. It’s messages of unjust persecution and irrational behaviour toward the unfamiliar is clear. Director of this Purely Pensive Production, Mark Kearney, concurs that The Crucible was written as an allegory in the 1950’s, and its allegorical power continues today.
“Of course, it reminds us of McCarthyist America that persecuted artists like Miller,” says Kearney, “but in a post-9/11 world, The Crucible is about the West’s persecution of Muslims. It’s about Australia’s default position to cry outrage at the slightest whiff of unpatriotic behaviour. It’s about politicians’ wilful ignorance in an effort to cling to power. It remains pertinent because humans remain susceptible to fear, hysteria and self interest.”
The Crucible is, of course, only a partially fictionalized work – witch trials in Salem did indeed occur – and many of the characters in the play are based on the good (or bad) folk of Salem Massachusetts.
In the midst of hysteria and forced confessions, the play’s protagonist, John Proctor, eventually makes the best stand that he knows how – his desire to be a good man outweighs any other and Proctor must make peace with a sacrifice that, for most, would be unbearable.
Kearney pays homage to the spirit of Proctor and others and says: “Fortunately, there are still the occasional John Proctors or Rebecca Nurses or Giles Coreys, people who are willing to defy the status quo despite the great personal cost they pay. But we need more of them.”
Kearney states that The Crucible is, alongside A Streetcar Named Desire, the best play ever written. “It is detailed and yet it is precise. At times it’s brutal, at times it’s delicate. Miller’s words dance across the tongue. I can’t imagine not wanting to be submerged in this play.”
Miller’s other notable works include: Death of a Salesman, All My Sons and A View From the Bridge but it is The Crucible that continues to shine. An American literary masterpiece, the Crucible is a stunning psychological thriller as well as a heartfelt love story. For Kearney, the play is a masterclass in tension and climax. “Once the action starts, it doesn’t relent,” Kearney states. “Instead, it snowballs towards the play’s cataclysmic finale. It’s imperative to create and maintain that tension. Without it, we don’t communicate the scale of the hysteria and horror that gripped Salem.”
For Kearney, the play has a number of moments that crystallise the drama neatly: First, Rebecca Nurse’s declaration that “there is a prodigious danger in the seeking of loose spirits” is a foreboding message about what happens when hysteric mob mentality is allowed to rule common sense. Next, Elizabeth Proctor tells her husband, John, “It is the magistrate that sits in your heart that judges you,” and in doing so, sets him on a path to redemption. And lastly, when Danforth declares, “You are either with this court or he must be counted against it,” he shows just how close-minded the Puritan theocracy is.
This is Kearney’s eighth production with Purely Pensive – a production company who prides itself on producing high quality, non-professional theatre. Kearney keeps returning because “there is never any trace of the same bullshit that pervades most amateur theatre groups. There is no egos. There is no drama. There is no nastiness. And they’re generous, having given me the chance to perform, to design and to direct.”
Much of Kearney’s praise falls at the feet of Vice President Angie Bedford who, he feels, is the best amateur theatre administrator in Melbourne. “She is passionate and efficient in equal measure. That sort of support leaves me to focus on the show.”
Kearney has no theatre qualifications other than his absolute love of the medium, and that, he states, counts for a lot. “It’s led to me teach VCE Theatre Studies and Drama, and has seen me direct musicals like Grease and 13, and plays like a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Most of all, I am a passionate theatregoer and an aspiring reviewer who loves nothing more than seeing a truly great piece of theatre. Although seeing an absolute abomination can also be pretty delicious.”
The promise for audiences is that the production will be: sonically and visually interesting; the set graphic and symbolic; the sound design spine tingling. Audiences will be positioned as judge and jury of the action.
More than that, there’s some wonderful humanity on display, thanks largely to the leading couple. Gabrielle Sing’s Elizabeth Proctor is a bleary-eyed pillar of unshakable morality, and Chris Black’s John Proctor is brazen and masculine. Kearney loves their performances and trusts audiences visiting Salem at this frightening time in history will concur.
November 12 – 14