Because it is my name!
Because I cannot have another in my life!
Because I lie and sign myself to lies!
Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang!
How may I live without my name?
I have given you my soul; leave me my name!
– John Proctor The Crucible Act IV on why he cannot save himself from the noose. And Wylie, in a ringing voice of tortured despair on the stage of the James Earl Jones Theater.
Last week’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was a marvel – a chilling ensemble performance by the high school players wonderfully directed by Laura Hicks.
In his play, Miller had in mind the parallels between 17th century New England’s obsession with witchcraft and the events of his own time – in particular the communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era. The play retains a powerful contemporary relevance.
Dressed in their somber Puritan costumes, and speaking their 17th century language with practiced ease, the actors drew the audience into a world of paranoid hysteria.
“I have seen this play three times and this performance was the most chilling.” – that was one instant review from an audience member who marveled at the power of the performance to sweep us away into a place so dark and troubling. It portrayed a world gone mad. A world where the toxic contagion of intolerance and narrow-mindedness swamps all reason.
Abigail Williams is the center of the closed group of “mean girls” caught dancing in the woods by the unctuous Rev. Parris . From this beginning a reign of terror is let loose. Panic grips the countryside as the word witchcraft is whispered. Names get named. One by one they are drawn into a death spiral fueled by hysteria. When Abigail – played to histrionic perfection – is swaying the court with her visions of Mary Warren’s “familiar” -a yellow bird – I didn’t know whether to look to the rafters or cry out for her to stop.
Guilt by association – we heard a deal about that during the recent election. In Miller’s play the consequences are clear and writ large. In the play the double bind of “Damned if you do, dead if you don’t” destroys the community. By the time the Rev Hale comes to his conscience it is too late to undo the damage he helped set in motion. The evil sweeps all before it. The litigious but harmless and jovial Giles Corey is “press’d to death”. When we hear of his last words – “More weight” – it seems that Deputy Gov. Danforth (played with convincing stiff necked rectitude) is the only one not horrified.
There’s a timelessness to this dark social commentary. No wonder it felt so chilling.