Crucible' offers generational lessons

 

April 26, 2024

Jana Peterson

Let the accusations begin. Accused of witchcraft herself, Tituba (Karmaria Johnson, above center) starts naming names while townspeople pray. Performances of "The Crucible" start at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 26-27 and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 28. Tickets are available at the door or online at the isd94.org.

It felt like the right time to tackle something a little more serious, said Cloquet High School theater director Corey Hunt, and what could be better than a play about the Salem witch trials? The CHS performance of "The Crucible," by Arthur Miller, runs this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"We wanted a different acting challenge for the kids, a different production challenge for the crew," Hunt said. "And a play that has something pretty important to say."

Based on historical people and real events, Miller's drama is a portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria. In the Puritan community of Salem, Massachusetts, rumors that women are practicing witchcraft spark the town's most basic fears and suspicions. When a group of girls get caught acting out and one of them accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch - blaming her and other women for all the ailments of the community - self-righteous church leaders and townspeople insist Proctor be brought to trial. Her husband, John, goes to court to defend her at the risk of exposing his own dark sins. The lies pile up in the courtroom, neighbors turn against neighbors and ruthless prosecutors deliver death and disaster upon the innocent.

"I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history," Arthur Miller wrote in the forward, also warning readers he took some creative license in crafting the play.

Like most art, it's not just about that moment in time. Written in 1953, Miller was inspired by the anti-communist hysteria of Senator Joseph McCarthy's "witch hunts" in the United States.

Communism isn't the bogeyman it was then, but people still make wild accusations sometimes, Hunt said, and spread rumors that ultimately damage others, especially on social media.

"Once the rumor mill gets going, it's hard to slow down, whether it's true or not," Hunt said. "Or just the way that people can be so quick to turn on each other, and accuse other people to try to get out of trouble themselves. Whether it's your own children - like, 'I didn't do it, he did it' - or politicians."

Hunt and assistant director Megan Gerlovich - who both acted in "The Crucible" as Cloquet students themselves - started rehearsals this spring by having the cast and crew watch a documentary about the Salem witch trials.

"We wanted to impress upon them that this really happened. These were real people that you're playing," he said. "So take that seriously, the responsibility to honor the people who were affected, who were killed in real life."

The high school actors in the play took that to heart, and they're bringing that history to life in a show that is probably rated PG-13: not for anything risque, but for the seriousness of the topic.

Jana Peterson

Thomas Putnam (William Bauer, far left) warns Rev. Samual Parris (Preston Latour) that there's evil afoot, while Abilgail Williams (Elise Sertich), might just be pondering how to save herself at the expense of others. Set in the late 1600s, 'The Crucible' offers lessons for the modern world too.

"It's a difficult show," Hunt said. "Drama is always tough: there's love, there's betrayal, they're screaming at each other up there. And a few of them have so many lines: Edward Stone as John Proctor and Calvin Snesrud as Governor Danforth and several others. And it's not easy language ... so it's a huge acting challenge, for sure."

Leafless tree branches hang over the set, making shadows that play across the stage through every scene change. The theater's state of the art sound and lighting systems are used to full potential.

"Every actor with a speaking part has a wireless microphone. The lights and the trees - those are real trees, John [Justad] cut them all down - really set the mood," Hunt said. "We are so lucky to have the facilities we do because it allows us to do a lot of really creative things."

The Cloquet High School presents "The Crucible" at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 26-27 and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 28. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for senior citizens and children ages 8-12, and can be purchased at the door or online at https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/83597. CHS students can also get extra credit in their English classes for attending, as it's part of the academic curriculum.

 
 

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