When American playwright Arthur Miller wrote his Tony Award-winning play "The Crucible" in the 1950s, he conjured the setting of the Salem witch trials of the 1690s to tell a story more contemporary to his time.
"When Arthur Miller wrote it, it was kind of an allusion to what was happening in the Cold War at the time, with, like, McCarthy trials and everything," said Tualatin High School senior Camryn Gray.
Gray is one of the lead actors in Tualatin High's production of "The Crucible," which opens Thursday at 7:30 p.m. To make the allegory more explicit, Tualatin High School Theatre is performing the show with '50s-style costuming and set design.
Drama teacher and director Jenn Hunter said the backdrop of that "Red Scare" era, in which U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy zealously led controversial investigations into alleged communist activities, has some resonance in today's world.
"We, once again, have found ourselves doing a play that is pretty timely with the current climate," Hunter said. "So we hope that the audience thinks about that on the drive home, and they figure out a way to participate in a thoughtful way in today's challenging times."
Senior Ian Edney, who plays opposite Gray in the show — the actors portray the married couple John and Elizabeth Proctor, respectively — agreed with Hunter's assessment.
"One thing that I'd want people to understand, kind of, is that Arthur Miller wrote this because he noticed similarities in the '50s as to the witch trials in the 1600s. And so he saw the witch trials, and he saw something bad going on there, and he noticed it in the '50s as well," Edney said. "And it's just important to realize that this kind of thing has happened before and it can happen again, and I think it's really important for people to realize that, because as long as people are aware of that, it's much less likely that it will ever happen again."
Miller wrote his dialogue to ape the flowery, old-fashioned language of the 17th century, and despite the 1954 setting of the Tualatin High show, the actors are using the original script. Miller did not skimp on length, either — the show comes in at about two hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission, Hunter said.
Not surprisingly, the lead actors — Edney, Gray and junior Megan Woodward, who plays the manipulative Abigail Williams — agreed that the show is one of the toughest they have ever acted in.
"It's, like, second to Shakespeare, I feel like — the language," Woodward said.
The rehearsal process for the show was affected by winter storms in January and February. Even still, it has come together for its five-night run this weekend.
"I could not be more impressed and proud of these students, because it's one of my favorite productions that I've directed, and I think it's one of the most difficult scripts for high-school actors to attack," Hunter said.
"The Crucible" shows at the Tualatin High School auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with matinees at 3:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are available at the door.
Tualatin High School is located at 22300 S.W. Boones Ferry Road.
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times