From Broadway in New York City to high school stages across the country, “The Crucible” has bewitched audiences for decades. Now, Arthur Miller’s searing masterpiece hits the Central Coast with an invisible energy that unleashes a dangerous hysteria on audiences.

“The Crucible” will be at the Marian Theatre in Santa Maria from Feb. 15 to March 4. The play is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service Inc., in conjunction with Pacific Conservatory Theatre.

“From time to time, we human beings have periods of moral panic that overtakes us,” said artistic director Mark Booher.

While focused on literal witch hunts, “The Crucible” is also considered an allegory for any number of misguided crusades throughout the ages, including ominous opinions against select groups of people in the world.

“Fear permeated society at the time of the McCarthy hearings on un-American activities when Arthur Miller wrote this play, and fear permeates the world of ‘The Crucible,’” said director Roger DeLaurier, noting that paranoia is a powerful agent. Like a physical contagion, it can spread swiftly with a devastating force and tear the social fabric to tatters.

DeLaurier observed that the community in 1692, which Miller created, is ruled by theocracy; church law and state law are one in the same. Sin and the status of the individual soul are matters of public concern.

“It’s a time that is, frankly, to our point of view, intolerant of anything that deviates from a prescribed way of being,” DeLaurier said.

When it debuted in New York, audiences were acutely aware of the similar perverse injustices of past and present, even though the play only speaks directly to a tragic period in American history when a group of girls took possession of Salem and reportedly were responsible for sending 19 honest men and women to the gallows.

Of the 1953 opening performance, The Daily News wrote: “The piece is just what it sets out to be: a tragic drama about the historic Puritan purge of witchcraft. It is, as it ends, the story of an upright man who finds within himself the courage to be hanged rather than to confess a guilt he does not own.”

DeLaurier said the journey of John Proctor is one that should resonate with us all.

“In a world that has become hysterical, how do we retain our goodness and make our way through this severe test amid a society in tumult?” DeLaurier asked. “John Proctor’s very human journey is one we can all recognize.”

“The Crucible” won the Tony Award in 1953 for Best Play. While the play is based on historical fact, Miller took great artistic license to craft his story. The play was first adapted for a European film in 1957, and later adapted by Miller in 1996. The latter was nominated for two Oscars, including Best Screenplay. It featured Wynona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis and was Miller’s only Academy Award nomination.


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