Lies, accusations, and secrecy are themes that shroud Hart House’s upcoming production in an ominous cloak. Kicking off the new year with The Crucible, written by playwright Arthur Miller, and directed by Michael Rubinstein, this timeless classic is set to premiere on January 19. Broadly speaking, The Crucible is situated in Massachusetts at the time of the Salem witch trials. Miller’s dramatization of the trials directly intends to parallel the McCarthyism of the period—however, this parallel has no expiry date, and extends into the contemporary world.
Courtney Lamanna, who plays seventeen-year-old Abigail Williams, and Melissa Taylor, who plays Elizabeth Proctor, sat down with The Medium and explained the inner workings of the Hart House Theatre’s production of the play. Auditions for the cast took place this past October.
Coming back to Hart House for the second time, after playing Sally Bowles in Caberet, Lamanna emphasized her personal maturation in regards to her return.
Since her role as Sally, and in regards to her current undertaking of Abigail, Lamanna said, “I suppose I have six years of life experience. I now have ten years of acting experience, rather three or four. Now that I have more life experience, [I can understand Abigail’s] predicament from a more mature standpoint—this allows me to portray the role with more grace and empathy.”
For Taylor, The Crucible marks her debut at Hart House Theatre as well as her first production in Toronto. Taylor expressed excitement for the project.
“It’s has been very professional. The production quality is incredibly high—which is phenomenal. I’ve met a lot of great actors and people.” Taylor continued, concerning her interaction with the cast members, “Everyone is well suited to their part. The training programs that people have gone through are impressive. I also enjoyed being part of a show with [cast members] of a diverse age range.”
Roughly, the cast members age bracket ranges from twelve to sixty-years-old.
The production of the play itself is unique in Rubinstein’s directorial approach. According to Taylor, Rubinstein takes a contemporary approach to the play by interpreting the text in a manner relevant to the audience.
Taylor said, “It’s a very dense script, and a lot of the ways that the text has been laid out is somewhat old-fashioned. There’s been a lot of work to mind that and to figure out what the intent behind the text is, instead of just letting the words come to the surface.”
“The important message is that history repeats itself. The Crucible acts as a warning regarding whatever era we’re talking about. It speaks of the dangerous imbalances of power, a patriarchal system, and pitting women against each other. [Rubinstein] has set it out of a puritan setting to fairy style setting to apply across cultures and background, and this makes it more active and present,” Lamanna added.
Previous interpretations of The Crucible have focused on highlighting the callous personalities of the female characters. However, Rubinstein diverges from this norm by working to bring out the humanity in the characters. For example, Abigail is typically portrayed as villainous, vindictive, and manipulative.
Lamanna expressed a kind of distaste for these darker portrayals of the play’s female characters.
“[Abigail] is not a monster. I don’t believe she was trying to murder Elizabeth Proctor, she was a teenager in love and jealous. Portraying her as a heartless villain is dangerous because then [the play] becomes a trope of a bunch of women trying to destroy a man’s life,” Lamanna continued, “but John Proctor and Abigail are on the same side. They’re not on the bad side. They are fighting a system that informs every choice they make. Abigail is working a man’s system and does it callously to her own benefit—she works against the patriarchy. It’s easy to forget this when the conflict develops.”
Ultimately, for Lamanna, the blame lies not on the characters, but in the patriarchal system in which they function. In order to go beyond a one-dimensional understanding of the characters in The Crucible, then, means to that we must understand the circumstances enforced upon them.
“Besides, how much blame can you put on a 17-year-old [Abigail Williams]?” Taylor added as an afterthought.
On her own character, Taylor described Elizabeth as a “bona fide feminist.” She explained that though Elizabeth’s husband John has a temper, and the couple often come into disputes, Elizabeth stands up to her husband by going further than a man would at her time. Taylor herself is a feminist.
Taylor likens Elizabeth to modern-day women such as Hilary Clinton. Taylor said that like Clinton, Elizabeth attempts to prove—rather than show—to her husband, and men in general, of her capabilities. As a result of this stereotypically masculine attempt, Elizabeth is often branded as cold. But, as I think Taylor incisively explained, this is not necessarily the case. This attempt, rather, may be a socially keen strategy.
“In order to be a successful woman in this day and age, you must hold your tongue and just prove yourself,” Taylor said.
Despite these callous traits etched into the script, the humanity of Abigail, Elizabeth, and the rest of the women, according to Taylor, is emphasized in Hart House Theatre’s production. Lamanna notes other unique directorial approaches which include a complete underscoring of the show, and a proscenium set. The proscenium setting, specifically, brings a sense of Big Brother’s presence into the production.
“Everyone is watching, and there’s nowhere to run away from the eye of the community,” Lamanna said.