, Salem, MA


July 25, 2013

Not your average murder mystery

Play on 1830 Salem murder, trial finds life at Griffen Theatre

History Alive creates plays based on real events, and for 21 years, it has stuck to the script.

The program, which is affiliated with Gordon College, is best known for “Cry Innocent,” a portrayal of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 that runs from June through early November at Old Town Hall.

But in the new play, “Goodnight, Captain White,” which is directed by Jill Rogati of Essex and opens at the Griffen Theatre this week, History Alive has taken a few liberties with the facts.

“History Alive has been, over the years, committed to historically accurate pieces,” said Mark Stevick, who wrote the script for “Captain White” and whose wife, Kristina, is History Alive’s artistic director. “This piece is certainly based on history, but it’s not the kind of history ‘Cry Innocent’ is.”

The captain in the play’s title was Joseph White of Salem, a wealthy, childless merchant who was murdered in his bed in 1830.

He was bludgeoned and stabbed by a local man, Richard Crowninshield, who was hired by the husband of the captain’s grandniece, who stood to inherit White’s fortune.

The crime horrified Salem’s citizens, and the ensuing trial was a national sensation, with renowned attorney and statesman Daniel Webster serving as prosecutor.

But the story and trial are complex, involving a number of characters, subplots and legal issues that would tax the attention of an audience.

So, Stevick combined characters in his script and borrowed a fact from elsewhere in the story to give Webster a reason to be there when the murder happens, so he can leap into action.

One of the biggest liberties Stevick took was to give the story a sense of humor, which comes more from the nature of the characters than the sequence of events.

“This script is a comedy and a whodunit,” he said. “We see the characters who have motive and opportunity at a party at the Gardner Pingree House. Then in Act 2, they can contrast the suspects’ statements.”

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