, Salem, MA


November 8, 2007

'What is this mischief here?'; 'The Crucible' opens tonight with historical telling of witchcraft trials

Just after the crowds of Salem's annual Halloween extravaganza Haunted Happenings have faded away, a local theater company is bringing a classic tale of this city's ties to witchcraft to the stage.

Salem Theatre Company's production of "The Crucible" opens tomorrow night at First Church at Salem, Unitarian. The show runs through Nov. 25.

While Haunted Happenings has become a commercial boon for the city, this show will take a more focused and serious look at Salem's witchcraft history, and the hysteria that led to 19 executions of supposed witches, says director John Fogle.

As such, Fogle says, the show is true to its historic roots and to Arthur Miller's original 1953 script.

"We don't do any 'concept work' with a classic," Fogle said of the production that the company also performed in 2003. "We just try to do justice to it."

Although Arthur Miller's original play was intended to draw similarities between the witchcraft hysteria of the 1690s and McCarthyism and the Red Scare of the 1950s, Fogle says he's not using his production as a "soapbox to talk about current events."

As the company rehearsed in the basement of First Church Unitarian in Salem earlier this week, with players running through lines, lighting and music cues, some of them talked about what Fogle dubs the "homegrown history" of the piece.

One of the most important characters is John Proctor, who is played by James Wilcox of Beverly.

Wilcox said he was drawn to playing this character because of Proctor's troubled past: The 1690s farmer in the play has an affair with a younger Abigail Williams, played here by Courtney Bennet.

"Proctor wrestles with his conscience, and despite his sinful past" works to seek truth, Wilcox said.

"I consider myself a person of faith; there is a lot I wrestle with," he said during a rehearsal break. He said while he certainly hasn't lived the troubled life of John Proctor, he did connect with the play's deeper themes once he got beyond the memorization of his lines and cues.

Jim Butterfield of Essex, who plays Thomas Putnam - "an important but small character" - has been acting for almost 40 years. He points out that not only is Salem known as a historic place, but the church where this play is being performed has its own ties to the witchcraft trials.

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