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22.3.11

The Crucible

by Arthur Miller

Oh. Man. I forgot how good this play is. I actually had to go out and buy a copy, which means either my bookcase has begun eating plays or I never took high school English.

I am enchanted by the poetry in the text (shocker, I know.) The subject matter is far from beautiful but Miller just has a way with words.

Everyone knows the story of The Crucible, but for those of you who actually never did take high school English, here's what the back of the Dramatists copy says (best if read in "movie trailer voice" ie: In a world where..):

"This exciting drama about the Puritan purge of witchcraft in old Salem is both a gripping historical play and a timely parable of our contemporary society. The story focuses upon a young farmer, his wife, and a young servant-girl who maliciously causes the wife's arrest for witchcraft. The farmer bring the girl to court to admit the lie - and it is here that the monstrous course of bigotry and deceit is terrifyingly depicted. The farmer, instead of saving his wife, finds himself also accused of witchcraft and ultimately condemned with a host of others."

I find it interesting that John Proctor's name is not mentioned once in that blurb..
In truth, I never think of him as a farmer. His profession is almost irrelevant to the story. When I think of Proctor, I think of his amazing line,
Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul, leave me my name!
I mean, come on! I want to play Proctor just so I can say that line! Now, he is not a perfect man. He has made mistakes, but he owns up to those mistakes, repents them, and attempts to live a better life having learned from them. His "downfall," if you see it that way, is his pride. To save his life, and see the birth of his child, all he must do is confess to witchcraft. Reverend Hale knows it is a lie, but in his mind it is a lie done for good. The life is more important. But Proctor cannot confess.

But whoa, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was inspired to re-read The Crucible by my mom. And by my mom, I mean Wendy Merritt, who plays my mother in The Great Divide. She is directing a production of The Crucible this summer for Sink or Swim Rep, so naturally we've been talking about the play a lot in the dressing room. In fact, I've probably said "Because it is my name!" a good five or six times in different conversations. Sink or Swim is producing the play in its "Truth" season, along with Romeo & Juliet.

Truth in The Crucible is an ever-changing creature. Not only do we question 'what is the truth?' but we are left wondering does it even matter?

Things that struck me:

1. Corruption within the church/court. We find out at the beginning of the play that some of the local girls have been caught dancing in the woods, and as a result a few have taken to their beds with illness. Betty Parris, daughter to the local Reverend, is bedridden and thought to be possessed. Her father has sent for Reverend Hale to examine her, much to the chagrin of the townsfolk, who are afraid that Hale will suspect witchcraft. Parris is distraught over Betty, but comforted by Rebecca Nurse:
A child's spirit is like a child, you can never catch it by running after it; you must stand still, and for love it will soon itself come back.
He is even more afeared because he is a man of God. When Hale arrives to check Betty, Parris asks why his daughter should be taken, when she is so good. Hale responds:
What victory would the Devil have, to win a soul already had? It is the best the Devil wants, and who is better than the minister?
The heart of the play lies undoubtedly in Hale. His journey throughout is the most interesting to me - steadfast and strong in his beliefs at the top, he falls a long way before finding the strength to compromise for what he believes to be the greater good.

As good of a man as Hale is, his opposite is reflected in Judge Hathorne. I was shocked at how maniacal he seemed in his pursuit of the "truth." Bending things to fit your will is not justice. Proctor drives the point home when he asks, "Is the accuser always holy now?" Hathorne is happy to believe everything that Abigail and the girls confess, never questioning their motives or sincerity.

Replica voodoo doll. (KLAUS AARSLEFF/FORTEAN PICTURE LIBRARY)
2. Personal vendettas being acted out on a public stage. The entire trial starts because of one girl's lie. This lie gets away from her and snowballs into an outpouring of falsity - aimed at anyone who has ever upset the young girls of the town. What is Abigail's motive? Is it out of love for John that she acts? Perhaps that is her belief by the end, but at the beginning it seems to be vengeance that drives her. She has been rejected by the man she loves and sees an opportunity to hurt him. She takes it. And many people suffer for it. Could this have been avoided?

There is a scene in the play that is sometimes left out (unfortunately, in my opinion) where Proctor visits Abigail and asks her to stop the accusations against his wife. This brings me to my next two thoughts:

3. The thin line between fantasy and reality.

4. The madness of love.

My argument for the necessity of the scene is that we never see them alone together otherwise. The way that the two of them respond to each other when other people are around is very different than when they are alone. Public vs. Private. Up until this point, we have heard about the affair, we have seen the rift it caused between John and Elizabeth, but we haven't seen the energy between John and Abigail. The intimacy of that scene reveals much more than just their sexual connection. At this point in the play, Abigail has been lying for so long, that I think she is no longer aware of what is true and what is make-believe. She has worked herself into such a state that the lines have blurred. Her love for John is mixed with her jealousy, the high she gets when she accuses someone, the power of her position, and all the attention lavished on her - making one dangerous cocktail that has her teetering on the edge of madness.

John is horrified that she has accused so many people, and asks her, "Then there is no one good?" To which, she responds:
Why, you taught me goodness, therefore you are good. It were a fire you walked me through, and all my ignorance was burned away. It were a fire, John, we lay in fire. And from that night no woman dare call me wicked any more but I knew my answer. I used to weep for my sins when the wind lifted up my skirts; and blushed for shame because some old Rebecca called me loose. And then you burned my ignorance away. As bare as some December tree I saw them all - walking like saints to church, running to feed the sick, and hypocrites in their hearts! And God gave me strength to call them liars, and God made men to listen to me, and by God I will scrub the world clean for the love of Him!
Folks, this is what we call 'religious fervor.' As one of the characters in David Hare's Racing Demon says, "You've got the bug. I've seen it before. All you want is to carry the Cross."


John threatens Abigail with exposure in the court, but Abigail is unfazed. When it comes time, however, John is true to his word and tells of their sordid past, therefore criminalizing himself. In one of the best lines of the play he tells the court:


You are pulling heaven down and raising up a whore.
Oh. Snap. 'Lot of good it did though, Proctor ends up in jail, and Elizabeth is in jail, pregnant. Hell, the whole population is in jail. Apparently, the town is going to be run by a bunch of 15-year old girls, as they're the only ones left.

Hale comes back! Lovely man that he is. He comes back a changed man - the effect of the court proceedings is harsh and it is apparent that he has been beaten down by the world. In a last desperate attempt to save John's life, he begs Elizabeth to help her husband:
Life, woman, life is God's most precious gift; no principle however glorious may justify the taking of it. I beg you, woman - prevail upon your husband to confess. Let him give his lie. Quail not before God's judgment in this, for it may well be God damns a liar less than he that throws his life away for pride.
Ah yes, 5. Pride. The theme of the week for this week's plays.


When I read this line of Hale's, it made me cry. It struck a Ruth chord in me, and made me think of a moment in the first act of Great Divide where she chooses life over the alternative, saying "I love my life; I must live. In torment, in darkness - it doesn't matter. I want my life. I will have it!" For Ruth and Proctor, pride is a big issue. To come full circle in this post, ultimately John's pride will not allow him to sign his name to a lie. As much as he may want to save himself, he cannot do it. He's not an ordinary farmer, he is John Proctor, and if what he wants to save is his name, he has surely done it, for it has never been forgotten.


Tomorrow's Play: Our Town by Thornton Wilder

15.3.11

Edward II

by Christopher Marlowe

In my second reading of Marlowe's tale of how personal choices influence the political arena, what struck me was the pure gall of King Edward's subjects. From the very beginning it seems that the lords of the court are questioning their ruler's every action.
Edward II

Edward II is often explored for its homosexual undertones, with regards to the title character and his relationship with his 'favorite' of the moment, most especially Gaveston. The intimacy that they share is a threat to some of the other men at court. The King is asked, with regards to Gaveston:

Why should you love him whom the world hates so?


His majesty quickly responds:


Because he loves me more than all the world.


To the lords of the court, Gaveston's station in life is offensive. To be the favorite of the King and to be of base birth is unacceptable in their eyes. To Edward, it is the man that makes the man, not to whom he was born. This is seen as a weakness in the eyes of those who disapprove of the company he keeps and it is not long before his own nobility are telling him:


Look for rebellion, look to be deposed:


This blows my mind. This is their KING. Placed on earth by GOD. And these arrogant, petty, men decide to kill him.

As a tribute to Marlowe's writing, I did go back and forth throughout the play with regards to whose side I was on. The nobles do have some slightly convincing points when it comes to Edward's behavior, and at times Edward gets a little whiny and "poor me." On the whole, however, I was on the side of the lawful King. When Spencer Junior entreats King Edward not to bear these base insults and to "Strike off their heads, and let them preach on poles;" I found myself saying, "Hear, hear!" and then promptly learning that little monologue because I liked it so much.

Truly, Spencer Junior gets the best lines in the play. During one of the fights, Lancaster warns the King not to trust those around him:


For they'll betray thee traitors as they are.


Spencer Junior responds:


Traitor on thy face, rebellious Lancaster.


Now, this is how I imagine this line should be played: "Traitor on thy FACE, rebellious Lancaster!" with some appropriately physical intimidation to accompany said line.

The moral center of the play seemed to me to lie in the King's brother, Kent. Even though he is swayed from side to side, I believe he was trying to act in the best interest of the country and not out of personal greed or gain. Eventually, King Edward is imprisoned and the gravity of the situation weighs heavily on Kent:


O, miserable is that commonweal, where lords
Keep courts and kings are locked in prison!


Mob mentality is a dangerous thing.

The villain of the piece (well, one of them) is certainly Mortimer. [In case you weren't sure, just refer to the much longer original title: The troublesome reign and lamentable death of Edward the second, King of England: with the tragical fall of proud Mortimer. Guess they didn't worry about spoiler alerts in those days.] Though I was generally unimpressed by Mortimer (I mean, how hard is it to woo a Queen, really), his method of disposing of the King was pretty brilliant. After hiring an assassin, he sends the man to the people holding the King with a letter that reads thus: "Edwardum occidere nolite timere bonum est." He purposefully leaves out punctuation because in the tricky language of Latin, depending on where you place the comma, this sentence can be interpreted two different ways. He explains:


'Edwardum occidere nolite timere, bonum est;
Fear not to kill the King, 'tis good he die.'
But read it thus, and that's another sense:
'Edwardum occidere nolite, timere bonum est;
Kill not the King, 'tis good to fear the worst.'


Thanks to the title, you already know that King Edward dies. Reading the play to see how it comes to pass is something I would highly recommend.

ATTENTION MARLOWE FANS!

Fairly soon, you will have the rare opportunity to see a production of this play. Details below:

Edward II

An all-female cast performs Christopher Marlowe's play with proceeds benefiting the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for queer homeless youth.

Written by Christopher Marlowe
Directed by Nicolette Dixon and Ben Prusiner

WOW Theatre Cafe
59-61 E 4th St. New York City, New York
April 21, 22, 23 at 8 pm
April 28, 29, 30 at 8 pm

Gay King and Conqueror's Son: how do sexuality and gender meet & what can we learn from the past?

WOW Cafe Theatre, a women and transperson's theatre collective, is proud to present an all- female production of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II with all proceeds to benefit the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for queer youth. A fictionalized account of real events, Edward II is a gay king who fails to live up to the prevailing ideas of masculinity and loses everything because of it. Through masks, movement, and heightened theatricality, Edward II takes the audience on a journey of power, privilege, and forbidden desires. Marlowe's play asks direct questions about sexuality and gender, the price of freedom in love, and the oppressive and destructive power of hatred. By combining the heightened language of classical theatre with an expressive experimental movement vocabulary, the production magnifies the story's emotional power and critical context.

Co-director Ben Prusiner says, "It's incredible how many of the issues that Marlowe was struggling with - sexuality, gender, class - are the same ones we are dealing with today. My goal is always to ask the open-ended question: what can we learn from another point of view?" Co-director Nicolette Dixon makes this statement about why she was drawn to the play, "Edward II is about sexuality and gay rights, and it powerfully situates that struggle within history. At the same time, this play is about the universal struggle to be accepted and loved for who we truly are, and we tell this story in honor of those whose voices have been stifled."

Edward II is written by Christopher Marlowe and directed by Nicolette Dixon and Ben Prusiner.

WOW Cafe Theatre

WOW Café Theater is a women's theater collective in NYC's East Village, which promotes the empowerment of women through the performing arts.

Historically, WOW has been a majority lesbian woman's space. WOW welcomes the full participation of all women and transpeople in solidarity with women. WOW especially welcomes women and transpeople of color, and women and trans people who identify as lesbians, bisexual and queer.

What:
Christopher Marlowe's Edward II performed by an all-female cast with all proceeds benefiting the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for homeless LGBT youth.

When and Where:
WOW Cafe Theatre
59-61 E 4th St. New York City, New York

Thursday, April 21, 8pm
Friday, April 22, 8pm
Saturday, April 23, 8pm
Thursday, April 28, 8pm
Friday, April 29, 8pm
Saturday, April 30, 8pm

Tickets:
Tickets are $20 at the door, $15 pre-sale online at www.fabnyc.org, student and senior and discount available at the door.

For more information please visit: http://edward-ii.tumblr.com/


Tomorrow's Play: The Crucible by Arthur Miller

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