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May 18, 2010 > Theatre: A Timeless Allegory

Theatre: A Timeless Allegory

Broadway West stages The Crucible

By Vidya Pradhan

Poet and philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Perhaps the remark was a response to the McCarthyism of Santayana's final years. In the 1940s and 50s, heightened fears of communist influence on American institutions and espionage by Soviet agents led to thousands of Americans accused of being Communists or communist sympathizers. They became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or private committees. These activities were encouraged by then U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, from whose name the term was coined.

In 1953, playwright Arthur Miller, who observed his friends being dragged through the process, wrote The Crucible, using the Salem witch trials of a quarter century before as an allegory for the witch hunts of the McCarthy era.

The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings to prosecute people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts, between February 1692 and May 1693. They began in the household of Samuel Parris, minister of Salem village, when his daughter and niece started behaving bizarrely. It is believed that the strict and restrictive Puritan upbringing of women in those times caused the two girls to invent the behavior to escape punishment for minor transgressions. The behavior and its imputations of Satanic possession gave villagers an excuse to accuse property-owning women of witchcraft and relieve them of their possessions.

Broadway West stages the popular play from May 14 to June 12. The Crucible cleaves closely to the history of the witch trials, narrating the story of the Parris girls and the havoc they created in their community. The play has a large cast of characters, and gives opportunities for several young thespians to participate in their community theater. Staging it in the compact Broadway West theater forces the audience to become participants in the play, witnesses to the hysteria-ridden accusations and trials of innocent people.

The Crucible is directed by veteran director and Broadway West co-owner Paula Chenoweth, with help from Associate Director Dawn Cates, who also stars as Elizabeth Proctor, the upright goodwife who would rather die than condemn her soul to hell for the sin of lying. The large cast is picked from regulars as well as local elementary and high school actors. For the most part the cast does the play justice: John Rutski's excellent performance as John Proctor and Kyle Smith's dependable turn as Reverend Parris, but the inexperience of some of the supporting cast shows through intermittently. Perhaps they were opening night jitters.

The Crucible is considered part of the canon of American Drama, and is required reading in many high schools. In these times of heated political discourse and overblown rhetoric and it is worth revisiting the cautionary message of the play, an exhortation against both the infringement of personal liberties by an overreaching government and mass hysteria induced by unscrupulous leaders with misleading propaganda.

Performance times of The Crucible at Broadway West are 8 p.m/ on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. There are three Sunday matinees: May 23, 30, June 6. May 23 and 30 performances begin with a continental brunch (included in the price of a ticket) at 12:15 pm,; show begins at 1 p.m. The June 6 performance starts at 1 p.m. with theme-based refreshments during intermission (included in price of ticket).

The Crucible
Friday, Saturday, Sunday, May 14 - June 12
Broadway West
4000-B Bay Street, Fremont

Regular ticket prices are $22 general and $17 for Students, Seniors and TBA members. Thursday, May 20, 27 and June 3 performances are $15 for everyone, with a bargain Thursday held on June 10 - all tickets $10. Sunday performances and Opening night are $22 for everyone. All ticket prices include refreshments.

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