‘The Crucible’ teaches timeless moral lesson

Sensitive issues of the past — bigotry, deceit, politics and religion — are still relevant to our society in the present. These issues will be brought to the forefront and depicted in drama as the 17th-century classic “The Crucible” will premiere July 19 at The State Theatre.

Written by American playwright Arthur Miller, the play won the 1953 Tony Award. “The Crucible” is a historical drama that focuses on the Salem witch trials that took place in the province of Massachusetts Bay during 1692 and 1693. It is based on fact but fictionalized by the playwright.

“The playwright uses a lot of dramatic license by using facts and fictionalizing those facts,” director Marilyn Knoffsinger said. “However, it is a true reflection on how mass hysteria can destroy a community.”

The production cast includes Jordan Santillo as Abigail Williams, Luke Miller as The Rev. John Hale, Stacy Sublett as The Rev. Samuel Parris, and Samuel Reitman as John Proctor. The story focuses upon a young farmer, Proctor, his wife Elizabeth, and a young servant-girl, Abigail, who maliciously causes the wife’s arrest for witchcraft. Proctor then brings the girl to court and finds himself a victim of this accusation and, as a result, is condemned and hanged.

Originally from the Huntingdon area and currently enrolled at Allegheny College as a theater major, Reitman has appeared in seven plays with State College Community Theatre, including “Wonderful Town,” “Hello, Dolly,” “Dracula,” “Guys & Dolls,” “Seussical” and “The Producers.”

Reitman plays the character of John Proctor, the protagonist in “The Crucible.” It is revealed that he was unfaithful to his wife with Abigail, the girl who sparked the madness of the Salem witch trials. This is very controversial, as the Puritan society is very black and white about morality. When his friends and his wife are accused of witchcraft and in danger of hanging for a lie, Proctor steps up to try and save them, even revealing his own dark secret. However, the madness of the trials soon turns the court against him and he is sentenced to hang.

“My character is very passionate and constantly channeling this rage,” Reitman said. “He carries the guilt for his transgressions, the anger at the inaction and blindness of the courts, and the fear for his friends and for the state of his own soul. This is a very emotionally charged play.”

The play was originally written as a direct criticism of McCarthyism, the practice of making accusations without proper regard for evidence. Therefore, the main idea of the play is to encourage people to remain calm during crisis situations and to not jump to the worst conclusions. It also encourages people to challenge certain social norms.

“The court killed innocent people and raised rebellion because they were unwilling to adapt and consider new ideas,” Reitman said. “ ‘The Crucible’ is very effective at portraying a state of hysteria and how it can rob people of their senses.”

“ ‘The Crucible’ is required reading in several schools nowadays, so perhaps younger audiences will be able to appreciate the themes presented,” Reitman said. “I hope that people will gain the courage to challenge their own beliefs and those of society. I hope that when all looks bleak, they can approach the situation from a center of calm and focus, rather than being ruled by anger and fear.”

“The big message that we’ve all been trying to portray with the show is that the troubles that these people were facing — the lies, egos and hysteria — are all things that still exist in great numbers today,” Santillo said. “A lot of our views today were shaped during that time period, and this is just one of the events that helped to do just that.”

Whatever effect “The Crucible” has on those who will experience it, Knoffsinger said she hopes it will encourage people to try and make a difference in their lives and in the lives of others.

“It is my hope that the audience will see the injustice in the world and will be moved to right the wrongs be it bigotry, political or religious differences, gender issues, sexual preferences, or financial powers,” she said. “Even if they cannot right the wrongs, I hope they enjoy great theater and great performances.”