Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” dramatizes the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, but it was written in response to events of the 1950s.
“He was responding to the Army-McCarthy hearings,” said John Fogle, artistic director of the Salem Theatre Company, where the play is opening today. “That may have faded from public memory to a good degree.”
In an essay he wrote in 1996, “Why I Wrote The Crucible,” Miller characterized his own sense of fear in that period as a “dead weight,” but he also described its disappearance.
“Fear doesn’t travel well,” he wrote. “Just as it can warp judgment, its absence can diminish memory’s truth. What terrifies one generation is likely to bring only a puzzled smile to the next.”
But if Joseph McCarthy’s pursuit of communists no longer seems vivid, the paranoia that “The Crucible” examines is always at work, somewhere in the world.
“In this play, you see the grip of this religious extremism,” Fogle said. “We have some of that in this country today, but we certainly see it very strongly in Iran, Afghanistan.”
One of the judges in Salem, the Rev. Hale, is skeptical about the trials and has a line that Fogle admires.
“He says, ‘Cleave to no faith when faith brings blood.’ That’s a good litmus test,’” he said. “If believing in something means we have to kill, or authorize killing of somebody else, we’re on the wrong track.”
The Salem Theatre Company staged “The Crucible” in 2003 and again in 2007, and audiences always seem to appreciate seeing it, Fogle said.
“We do it about every five years,” he said. “When you have a Tony Award-winning classic that is about the history of your city, and it turns out to be a crackerjack play, it’s a no-brainer.”