Why did Arthur Miller, a twentieth century literary celebrity, set his classic play The Crucible in Salem Massachusetts in 1692? Surely his testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee felt like a frenetic witch-hunt, pitting friend against friend in an attempt to expose communist sympathizers in the arts community. That is the essence of The Crucible — a close-knit community caught in hysteria induced by the church-sanctioned government search for those who traffic in the work of the devil.
Steppenwolf’s The Crucible — Fear and Innocence
John and Elizabeth Proctor are the prototypical young couple of their day — principled, hard-working parents of three sons. John, played by Travis A. Knight is not above demanding his wife serve him cider with dinner when he is ready for it. Elizabeth, played by Kristina Valada-Viars is dutiful to a fault despite her husband’s dalliance with the beguiling Abbie Williams. There is a loyalty between them that has stood the test of time. Never mind their love is driven by fear. What’s an agrarian family to do when the going get’s rough? They close ranks and cling tightly to one another.
The going gets rough in the form of hired help Mary Warren who informs the Proctors Elizabeth’s name was mentioned in the latest witch trial. Innocence turns to dread before our eyes as a knowing wife intuits she will now fight for her life as she has seen her friends fight. John sees the absurdity of a witch frenzy masquerading as morality. He will prevail over stupidity. He is impulsively honest and will not pander to a religious magistrate when badgered to betray his wife’s innocence.
Did We Talk Like That?
Miller’s play uses the language of colonial America; the king’s English mixed with a tad bit of independence in the offing. Not far from Shakespearean dialogue, theater fans who enjoy a story that unfolds in rich soliloquy will be engaged. This is a soap opera of conversation set on a spare stage with dramatic lighting and dark costuming. The colors of the production are blacks and grays — a perfect metaphor for the darkness of ignorance. The devilish dance performed by the teenage girls in the woods is a respite from the staging — a colonial rap dance, percussive and precise.
Integrity — Truth or Dare
Reverend Hale is to be an arbiter between the local pastor, Reverend Parris and Deputy Danforth who is overseeing the trials of this latest round of suspected witches. Hale is the masterful button pusher, railroading professions of Christian faith and heresy from those who will fight for their lives. If a life depends on the ability to recite the ten commandments, who will remain standing? John Proctor is not one to be railroaded. He and his wife will hang unless he comes up with the profession that betrays his own integrity.
Steppenwolf Theater bears a solid resemblance to our man John Proctor. Masterful at truth-telling and never shy, Steppenwolf’s choice to present The Crucible in their Young Adults Productions is particularly meaningful in a our own time where truth has become blurred by political cacophony and divisive rhetoric aimed at the vulnerable. Miller’s cautionary tale of the 1950’s has a contemporary lesson. Those who ask questions of the status quo and refuse the comfort of the bandwagon when truth is at stake will feel a kinship with this fine production.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Thru October 21
Sunday, October 8 @ 3PM
Friday, October 13 @ 7:30PM
Saturday, October 14 @ 3:00 and 7:30PM
Saturday, October 21 @ 3:00 and 7:30PM
Please note: Weekday student matinee performances are currently sold out.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company
1650 North Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60614
About the Author:
Stephen B. Starr is Principal of Stephen B. Starr Design, Inc., a design and communication consultancy in Evanston, IL. Stephen is a former president of the Chicago Creative Coalition, organizer for the Chicago Weekly Sitting Meditation Group and founder and organizer of the Chicago Web Professionals. Stephen is nurtured creatively by the fine art of story-telling — especially in the theater. As a college journalism major, he has since followed the siren’s call of poetry and short story writing in his free time. He is interested in the wisdom of indigenous spiritual traditions and seeks inspiration in natural settings by gardening, camping, hiking and biking.