I admit it. I have never loved The Crucible.
I read it in high school and then again in college. I went to a few performances and even watched the movie to try to love it. I love history and I love reading about this period, but I never got into this play. When I read or watched the play, I rarely felt invested in any of the characters. I felt sorry for them, but most of the time, I just wanted this play to be over.
Last Sunday, Thing1 volunteered to babysit Thing2 so I could go to Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, NY and see my husband perform in the Crucible as Giles Corey. I was excited to see him and other actors whose work I’ve come to love, but I was skeptical about the event, even as I climbed the steps to the darkened theater.
So I sat down and got out my sketchbook, doodling in the dark as we watched girls, caught dancing in the forest, try to assuage their guilt by turning a town upside down. I sketched a few more vignettes, but soon I realized I was just gripping my pen as sadness over the impending fates of the girls’ victims took over.
I watched John and Elizabeth Proctor (played by David Snyder and Erin Ouellette) tried to repair a damaged marriage even as the world began tearing them to pieces, and suddenly there was more than just pity. There was an irrational hope that history would change, and, as Elizabeth Proctor was torn from her home, all I could do was grip my sketchbook from the end of that second act until John Proctor was led to the gallows at the end of the play.
For the first time since I’ve known about this play, I felt the incredible sadness but also new admiration for victims of the witch hunt who were defiant until their last breaths. I even experienced little momentary pity for the instigator of the chaos – the damaged and deceptive Abigail Williams beautifully played by Catherine Seeley Keister who managed to bring depth to a character that seems to lack dimension on the page.
Each member of the cast brought new life to the characters they portrayed. Deb Borthwick as Rebecca Nurse had a perfect no-nonsense attitude to the early accusations that only someone who has weathered a host of fussy eaters could muster. Lia Russell-Self as both the trapped Tituba and the pitiless Judge Danforth expertly walked both sides of the mayhem, and Digby Baker-Porazinski (still in high school) was the picture of conflict as he portrayed Reverend Hale, an expert on witchcraft who comes to regret the events he has helped to accelerate.
I know more experienced theater critics will have their opinion of this performance, but this isn’t a critique. It’s a thank you note to Hubbard Hall and places like it that recruit seasoned veterans, up-and-coming actors and talented amateurs to create a community of artists that breathes humanity into something that was once dull and lifeless. It’s gratitude for creating something new.
It’s what great art does, and as I headed home, thinking about the message of the Crucible as if for the first time, I remembered once again why art matters so much not just to those who create it, but to the people they inspire.