Although "The Crucible" carries with it obvious references to McCarthyism, the play is still focused on an era well before the 1940s and 1950s. Nearly 300 years before Senator Joseph McCarthy spread fear throughout the United States and accused citizens of being Communists, a similar event took place in colonial Massachusetts.
The Salem witch trials are both the subject and setting of Lamb Theatre's latest production, "The Crucible," created by playwright Arthur Miller. A cast of 10 women and 10 men retell this dramatized and partially fictional story about the hearings and eventual prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft. Twenty people were executed following these trials.
Director Russ Wooley spoke with The Weekender about "The Crucible" and how it delves into themes of paranoia, intolerance, hysteria and morality:
Will audiences still understand the play's allegory to McCarthyism? Or was that just a product of it being released during that era?
Wooley: People will walk out of here with all kinds of different things. That's what wonderful about great theater -- really, truly, Great theater, with a capital G. It speaks to people. The story is a very compelling story, but it's about people. It's about how people reacted to this particular moment in time. That moment in time happens again, happens again, happens again.
Is that why the costumes and set look like it's not entirely from that colonial time period?
Wooley: You'll come to our show and you're not going to see our actors in pilgrims costumes. They're kind of generic clothes. Sometimes it's far too easy to go, "Oh, that happened hundreds of years ago." Putting it in a slightly different world but still our world I think can get a person to identify a little easier and get them to think about some things. The language stays the same, of course. It's so rich and so full of metaphor and illusion. But it's not present day language.
I was surprised to see a very minimalist set design. What's the idea behind that?
Wooley: We go to so many different places. You're supposed to be in the woods? Well if you look at that, some people will say, "Oh! There are the trees. The trees are there." We can be in the woods with a blank stage. We can be in Reverend Parish's house by bringing out a small bed and table. We can be in Proctor's house by a kitchen table over here. We can be in a courtroom by bringing out a bigger table that the Deputy Governor and Judge sit behind. You can approach this show and do everything very realistically, but I was not interested in that. For me, what's really important to me is the text and the emphasis on the actors telling that story.
Have the allegories and themes in "The Crucible" become diluted by time?
Wooley: Oh I don't think so. That's a mark of a great play. I guarantee you people will leave and they will talk about this play for a couple hours after this. They will see things that I haven't even thought of, which is wonderful. They will see and hear and think about ideas that we haven't even thought about. It's so rich. It's not snooty drama, it's just a cracklin' good story.