Screams, sobs and seduction

October 23, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Edgy. Intense. Disturbing. Dark. Timeless.

This is how the cast and crew of "The Crucible" describe one of American playwright Arthur Miller's greatest works. The Old Opera House Theatre Company in Charles Town will stage its first production of "The Crucible" - with a few twists - starting at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24.

"One thing we're trying to push is the timelessness of this story," director Joseph Jurand says. "It will always replicate itself because it portrays some of the small-minded foibles that will always plague us. The whole point of this play is to study the darkest side of us - the side we always have to be on guard against."

There's greed and wrath, infidelity and dishonesty and jealousy. And plenty of hysteria.

"This play is powerful," Jurand says.

Miller - whose "Death of a Salesman" won the Pulitzer Prize in 1949 - wrote "The Crucible" in 1953 during a period when Americans were accusing each other of pro-Communist beliefs. Set against the backdrop of the witch hunts of the Salem, Mass., witch trials in the late 17th century, the play explores the dark side of human nature through the themes of truth and righteousness. The chilling drama tells the story of how a spurned child's lie leads to the trial and execution of 19 innocent people accused of witchcraft.


"It's still relevant to today's society, even though some will see it as an historical piece," says Faith Whitacre, who plays the lead female role, Abigail Williams. "We just don't cry 'witch' anymore."

To highlight the play's resonance as a commentary on modern society - on society from the late 17th century through today, in fact - the Old Opera House Theatre Company's production employs sound, lighting and props that convey timelessness, Jurand says.

The open, multi-leveled stage features black, abstract furnishings. Lighting designer Kenny Louden uses unconventional techniques to cast shadows and angles that add an unsettling quality to an already disturbing work. And sound designer Rico Massimino "spliced, diced and chopped" music from a variety of sources - including "Star Trek," the movie "Blade Runner," rock band ZZ Top and drummer Mickey Hart of The Grateful Dead - to create a background soundtrack that conveys the play's timeless truths and the base emotions that drive the characters and, to some extent, all humans, says Jurand, a psychiatrist in Hagerstown.

"We chose primitive drumming because this thing is about primitive emotions - jealousy, greed, anger, some love," he says.

The play's outstanding cast of 21 actors mines their own emotions - magnifying them, subduing them, hurling them at the audience - to convey the full gamut of feelings packed into the play.

Whitacre researched the Salem witch trials, visited Salem, watched actresses such as the late Marilyn Monroe portray femme fatales, and tapped into the underbelly of her own personality - a stretch for the kind and grounded home-schooled girl from Harpers Ferry, Jurand says - to bring Abigail Williams to life on stage, she says.

"Abigail is a seductress. She's cunning. She's devious. She spins the town into confusion," says Whitacre, 18. "I'm always screaming, sobbing or seducing."

While Whitacre unleashes her passions to play Abigail, Laura Richards Bakin reigns hers in to portray Elizabeth Proctor. It was a challenge for Bakin, but she says she embraced the opportunity to explore the love-hate spousal relationship between Elizabeth and John Proctor and the tenacity and courage that drives the doomed Elizabeth despite the character's outward dispassion.

"I see her as a victim of her time, as trying to do the right thing as a wife and mother," says Bakin, a mother of three and part-time court transcriptionist who lives in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va. "Elizabeth's a very interesting character. I love this part because she's so complex."

Jurand hopes the tense dynamic between the Proctors will prompt the audience to question the true motivation for John's infidelity with Abigail - an affair that happened, historically, when Abigail was 11 and Proctor in his 60s, the director says.

On a lighter note, well, sort of, actors Sherrie Klimes and Jack Brennan bring some comic relief to the heavy drama with their portrayals of Sarah Good and Giles Corey. Klimes, of Harpers Ferry, blackens her teeth and lets her long hair and inhibitions go wild to play a falsely accused woman who tumbles into insanity while awaiting her hanging. Brennan, of Charles Town, dives into his role as a cranky old codger who accidentally gets his wife labeled a witch.

"I'm cantankerous," says Brennan, a computer consultant. "I'm a great whiner and complainer so this role suits me."

"The Crucible" runs nearly three hours. Refreshments will be available during the show's intermission.

Cast and Crew


Betty Parris: Bergen Dixon

Samuel Parris: Kenny Louden

Tituba: Toni Fife

Abigail Williams: Faith Whitacre

Susanna Wallcott: Caitlin Louden

Ann Putnam: Ellen Hartinger

Thomas Putnam: Ty Unglebower

Mercy Lewis: Diana Jurand

Mary Warren: Allison Martin

John Proctor: Charles Boyce

Rebecca Nurse: Martha Louden

Giles Corey: Jack Brennan

Rev. John Hale: Rick Anthony

Elizabeth Proctor: Laura Richards Bakin

Francis Nurse: Ken Kemp

Ezekiel Cheever: Dan Rice

John Willard: Jim Whipple

Judge Hathorne: Mark Whitacre

Danforth: Jim Furbee

Sarah Good: Sherrie Klimes

Hopkins: Terry Jones

Production staff

Director: Joseph Jurand

Assistant director: Robin DePietro-Jurand

Producer: Sherrie Bourgeois

Stage manager: Tina Bartles

Set foreman: Richard Ayres

Lighting design: Kenny Louden

Sound design: Rico Massimino

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