Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. It’s one of the Ten Commandments that seems simple enough. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.
But when lying becomes the only thing standing between life and death, the ninth commandment quickly falls to the wayside.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF NESRINE MAJZOUB
- I HAVE KNOWN HER: When John Proctor’s (Jacob Corsaro) wife is accused of witchcraft by Abigail Williams (Sabrina Orro), he must grapple with his shame and admit to having an affair with the vengeful Abigail.
It’s a theme that Cal Poly student actors grappled with Feb. 25 on opening night of Arthur Miller’s famous play, The Crucible, which tells the story of the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts circa 1692.
The show, directed by Cal Poly Theatre and Dance Department professor Heidi Nees, started with some information about the Salem witch trials being projected onto a screen. Next, we saw a dark and mysterious forest filled with trees before the screen lifted and gave way to a cast in Puritan garb sitting in chairs around a simple rustic set—an elevated wooden platform surrounded by wooden logs. Tables, chairs, and a bed were moved on and off stage depending on where the scene was set.
After a group of young girls spend the night dancing (possibly naked) in the forest (possibly conjuring spells with the help of the devil), little Betty Parris (Miranda Ashland), the daughter of the very proud Reverend Samuel Parris (Garrett Lamoureux) is acting strange. She won’t open her eyes, talk, or eat. Talk begins to spread around, and neighbors even swear they’ve seen her fly. Fearful that the stain of witchcraft will tarnish his ministry, Reverend Parris confronts his niece, the duplicitous Abigail Williams (Sabrina Orro) about what really happened that night. Abigail casts some blame on Tituba (Riley Clark), the family’s maid from Barbados, but won’t reveal the extent of what went on that fateful night in the woods.
Distressed, Reverend Perris calls on the simultaneously charming and unsettling Reverend John Hale (Kyle Palazzolo), who has an expertise in identifying witchcraft. That’s when everything slowly starts to go to hell in a handbasket, and accusations of witchcraft begin flying left and right. A court rises up in Salem, and Abigail and her band of young girls craftily admit to witchcraft, renounce Satan, and rapidly send person after person to the noose to hang for their alleged dealings with the devil. When Abigail accuses her former employer, Elizabeth Proctor (Emily Brehm) of witchcraft, an old wound bleeds again. John Proctor (Jacob Corsaro) must grapple with his own sinful past of engaging in adultery with Abigail when she worked under their roof.
“You loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet!” a desperately infatuated Abigail screams at John during a clandestine meeting in the middle of the night.
As it becomes clear that Abigail is looking to replace Elizabeth as John’s wife, he realizes he must testify against her to free his wife. The honest and God-fearing Mrs. Proctor will never falsely confess to witchcraft to save her life, and denying any wrongdoing in this court means death.
While I realize this play is set several hundred years ago, it is mildly upsetting that the only crime apparently worse than witchcraft is having sex (as opposed to, you know, murder or something). The only time Abigail’s credibility is doubted by the court is when John tearfully admits that the whole “I saw so and so with the devil” bit is a ruse by Abigail to kill his wife, who turned her out of their home for being a harlot, aka sleeping with Mr. Proctor.
“You are pulling down heaven and raising up a whore!” John screams in desperation at the court of witch hunting madmen.
And the hits just keep on coming. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice to say it’s quite grim. The cast of student actors keeps the intense energy of the play going for the full 2 1/2 hours that the show runs, and before the actors take their bows, a montage of other human atrocities flashes on the screen, everything from footage of the Ku Klux Klan to Japanese internment camps during World War II to recent black victims of police brutality like Tamir Rice—they are all bound together by a common web of lies that lead to violence.
Ryah Cooley saw the Shredder consorting with the devil at firstname.lastname@example.org.