The Philosophy of the Time
Story by Jaclyn Morris
Photos courtesy of Ariel Ogden
You start out in blackness, not knowing where to look or what to look for. Suddenly, the first scene starts. Girls are twirling around a fire, dancing, and laughing. Then, as quickly as they appeared, they vanish. This seemingly innocuous event was only the beginning of the scandal and hysteria that compose the Salem witchcraft trials. Thus begins Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which will be opening tomorrow at the University of Oregon.
For those unfamiliar with the story, The Crucible centers on the town of Salem Village in Massachusetts in 1692 during the witchcraft trials. Miller examines the lives of the townspeople and how they react to this event and the accusations of witchcraft, which provides for a chilling story of betrayal, lies, and the devastating impact of power.
This time in history provided a parallel for what Miller was experiencing in his own life. When the play was written, the world was possessed by a fear of potential evils, especially the effect of Communism in the United States, the “Second Red Scare.” In the same way, Salem was gripped by the fear of the presence of witches and how it would affect their town.
Director Theresa May describes the play as “a warning not only about the kind of mob-think that allowed the McCarthy hearings to proceed, but about the small and insidious ways in which rumors hurt, and sometimes kill.”
Paranoia is a huge theme of this production and can be seen everywhere, from the girls’ paranoia at being caught in a lie to the paranoia felt by the pastor, Mr. Harris, when he finds out his niece and daughter are involved in witchcraft to the paranoia of the townspeople who do not know if they will be the next person accused.
Frani Geiger, the lights designer, said that working with the concept of paranoia was integral in the choices made by the designers.
“I loved working [on The Crucible] because I was able to focus more on design development, structure and technique. Most viewers are familiar with the story so I was able to steer clear of the smoke and mirrors or creating the ‘magic’ and think about creating an emotional spectrum.”
This emotional spectrum is not just felt when you see the set, lighting, or sounds. The actors have a hard task: to embody all the fear and courage that makes their characters real and to show us their world.
Riley Shanahan, who will be playing John Proctor, commented on the challenges of performing his character in this production.
“The idea of character is a pair of new and different prescription glasses. The glasses of Proctor are a little blurry. In rehearsals while preparing for roles, I like to find out how a human can feel the way they do. I have to know that a human can feel these feelings and can go through this.”
The actors in this production have dedicated the entirety of themselves to their roles. This is evident in the interactions they have with each other to create the tense and frightening scenes that give The Crucible so much weight and impact on an audience.
“I love theater because it is a reflection of the philosophy of the time,” Shanahan remarks. “The Crucible and other plays offer us a story that is live and alive. It is our hope as actors that we create these characters that are living and breathing humans and are real. The fact that theater gives us a chance to see history, ethics, and philosophy in action is wondrous to me.”
The Crucible runs from March 8-17th in the Hope Theater in the Miller Theater Complex. All shows start at 8 pm except for the 2pm matinee on Sunday, March 11th. The ticket office is open an hour before the show. Free seating is available for students with a valid University of Oregon ID but must be reserved the day of the performance between 7 and 7:30 pm for evening performances and between 1 and 1:30 pm for the matinee performance. Tickets for UO Faculty/Staff and seniors are $12 and $14 for the general public. For more information, click here.