PlayMakers company member Jeffrey Blair Cornell has kept a journal of his impressions of the process for creating our upcoming production of The Crucible. The following is the last journal entry in the series as the show comes to a close.
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
We’re open and running! Wow. Fun!
The company, cast and crew are tight — it feels good to play this play. These days, it even feels like a responsibility!
Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Danforth. Photo by Jon Gardiner.
The audience response has been all we’d hoped for…They continue to tell us what the play is, every night. It’s an honor, a privilege, to make this play every night WITH them…(I can’t emphasize enough how much we NEED that audience presence, that participation that truly makes the event happen!)
Happily, we find that the power that we thought the play had in the rehearsal hall is confirmed (after one recent performance, an audience member called out, “VOTE!!”), and yet, there are surprises. We didn’t know that the play had such laughs!
Giles Corey, played by Ray Dooley (pictured left with Ariel Shafir as John Proctor), is an old farmer with a delightful, curmudgeonly streak, and the crowds are eating him up! I think part of their appreciation is his feisty resistance to the overbearing law which ultimately (and brutally) takes such tragic life (including his own) in the story. His fierce hold on life with humor and charity is perhaps one of the most hopeful consolations in the play.
Interestingly, in his autobiography, Timebends, Arthur Miller notes that in his research on the Salem trials he was struck by the breakdown in the relationships of the neighbors in the village at the time…He noted that they had “broken charity” with each other. The loss of that communal bond, that personal understanding, that human kindness, Miller thought, was what was really behind “the crucible” that became of Salem Village…
And so it is with Giles Corey. When Giles’ wife, Martha, is forced to defend herself of witchcraft on the stand, he feels that it is his fault (for he had mentioned to the authorities that she had often been reading books!) He dissolves in tears at the court, crying out: “I have broke charity with the woman, I have broke charity with her!”
This authority (which Danforth represents in hard and unforgiving judgment) is used as an excuse for neighbor to turn on neighbor. In Act Two, the tailor, Ezekiel Cheever, comes with a warrant to arrest John Proctor’s wife:
GILES: It’s a pity, Ezekiel, than an honest tailor might have gone to Heaven must burn in Hell. You’ll burn for this, do you know it?
CHEEVER: You know yourself I must do as I’m told. You surely know that, Giles. And I’d as lief you’d not be sending me to Hell. I like not the sound of it, I tell you; I like not the sound of it.
Must we do as we’re told?! Must we do what an authority says? Even if we think it unjust? Do we not bear greater responsibility to each other?
John Proctor resists: “I like not the smell of this authority.” And, “That warrant’s vengeance. I’ll not give my wife to vengeance.”
Ultimately, the audiences watching this production must decide for themselves how THEY would behave in such circumstances. Rebecca Nurse, Mary Easty, Martha Corey, Giles Corey, all choose death rather than submit to an unjust authority…John Proctor falters, momentarily choosing “life” over “goodness” thinking himself not worthy to die alongside more “worthy” martyrs. But, his eventual and redeeming self-sacrifice (for honor, for right, and for his NAME) is a profound challenge to all of us. And an invitation to find what’s truly good in ourselves.