For political dissidents, Arthur Miller's play, "The Crucible," rings as true today as it did in 1953 when the play first appeared on Broadway. Written as an allegory of McCarthyism and the "Red Scare," the play portrays the hysteria of the Salem, Mass., witch trials of 1692. Watching the play, it's not a stretch to think of today's gung-ho, uninformed and fanatical "patriotism" where disagreeing with the current administration can literally cost you friends and ruin your career (remember The Dixie Chicks?). Fearmongering—deliberately scaring the populace with unfounded "facts" and false accusations—seems to be as popular today as it was in the '50s, or in 1692.
Although not strictly historically accurate, individuals from the actual trials provide the basis for Miller's characters. In 1692, 150 "witches" were imprisoned, and 20 of them were put to death in a variety of horrible ways. The stats aren't quite as bad in the play.
The New Stage production of "The Crucible" effectively uses dark, haunting sets and drab costuming to set the mood. The story line, familiar to many, centers around accusations of witchcraft aimed at John Proctor, played by Floridian Rus Blackwell, and his family. In 1692, an accusation of witchcraft amounted to a conviction. It was up to the accused to prove their innocence. Try to prove a negative, and you'll understand the problem: "I don't hate democracy." No matter how well you argue, there are just too many adversarial traps to fall into. Even after 50 years, it's still terrifying to watch Miller's characters attempt to defend themselves against false accusations, paranoia and a hysterical religiously based political atmosphere. As is to be expected, they are not up to the task.
Frightening as well is the effect of this madness on individuals as they sacrifice friends and loved ones to save their own skins. Chief among these is the character Abigail Williams, played by Audra Brumfield, who begins the scare to misdirect the hateful local preacher, Reverend Paris, after she is accused of witch-like behavior. Her lies and insinuations embroil her friends in the plot, and they are all too eager to go along with her. Their crime? Dancing and singing in the woods.
We learn that John Proctor has spurned Abigail's amorous attentions. It's all too perfect for Abigail: By accusing John's wife of witchcraft, effectively getting rid of her, she believes she can have John. But as plans based on lies often will, her plan backfires when John himself becomes a target. Solidifying the accusations in the minds of the accusers, one girl's comatose state is enough to send the entire village into the unnerving frenzy of the witch-hunt. Events spiral out of control as lies are heaped upon lies, and the most innocent actions are twisted beyond recognition and used as evidence against the accused.
Director Francine Reynolds has put together an eclectic group of performers, age 10 to 65, to bring you Miller's chilling play. Even if you're not moved by the politics, "The Crucible" is a bone-chilling way to begin the Halloween season. Just keep in mind that it's not far from the truth—not in 1692, not in the '50s, not today.
"The Crucible" plays at New Stage Theater through Oct. 29. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Ticket are $22, with discounts available for students, senior citizens and groups. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, charged by phone (601-948-3531) or ordered online at http://www.newstagetheatre.com.