The year is 1692, the place is Salem, Massachusetts and witchcraft hysteria is sweeping through the town, tearing apart families and ruining reputations.
When playwright Arthur Miller wrote his Tony Award-winning play “The Crucible” in the early 1950s, however, the fear and mob mentality of a 17th-century witch hunt seemed all too relevant, as anti-communist fears swept the nation and the House Un-American Activities Committee was actively seeking out writers and artists with leftist sympathies.
These are among the themes and undercurrents that will be explored in Nease High School’s production of “The Crucible,” to be presented at 7 p.m. April 14-16 in the school’s Performing Arts Center. Considered to be among the most significant American dramas of the 20th century, “The Crucible” is required reading for all local high school juniors, drama teacher Maria Laird noted. Nevertheless, the play’s heightened emotions and serious subject matter present a challenge for student performers.
“I wanted to present a play that really pushed the students and challenged them,” Laird said. “For the past few seasons, we’ve done really light plays and musicals like ‘Cinderella.’ This year, I wanted to give students the chance to portray something that was real.”The challenge for young thespians, Laird added, is to dig deep and draw on authentic emotions. “The Crucible gives them the chance to get up on stage and show true emotion instead of just pretending.”
Junior Grant Burmeister, who portrays Rev. John Hale in the play, said the most challenging part of acting in “The Crucible” has been memorizing Miller’s dialogue, which approximates the more formal, verbose speech patterns of colonial Salem.
“Memorizing all the dialogue has definitely been the hardest part,” he said.
“The language is so important to this play,” she said. “I’m working with the students to help them understand the importance of every single word and every phrase.”
Sophomore Abby Watson – who portrays Susanna Walcott – said the play’s dark subject matter is a departure from typical student theatrical productions. “The play really has no hope and it’s just really difficult to portray that hopeless feeling,” she said. “It’s been very challenging for everyone, but I’ve really connected with everything we’re doing here.”
Admission to “The Crucible” is $10; Nease High School is located at 10550 Ray Rd. in Ponte Vedra.