LUMBERTON — Purple Door Productions will tackle modern issues with a story set in 1692 Salem, Mass.
From Thursday through Feb. 4, actors will bring audience members into close contact with these issues by presenting an intimate retelling of playwright Arthur Miller’s classic 1953 play “The Crucible,” which is based on the Salem witch trials.
“That’s the thing about the world’s greatest playwrights — the people that stand at the top. The reason they stand there is because they always have these central truths in their plays that no matter what time frame the play is set in that truth remains,” said Jeanne Koonce, director of the play. “Their writing is so big that’s it’s constantly speaking to you every time you come to it.”
In three acts, the play tells the story of a group of young girls from a Puritan community who are caught by the village minister dancing in the forest. One of the girls falls into a coma. Rumors of witchcraft circle around the village, and the girls are tried for witchcraft.
“We’re really trying to draw some parallels of what’s been going on in the United States,” said Jon Davis, an actor in the play. “You don’t have to go back to Salem to find witch hunts.”
Davis is playing the part of John Proctor, a farmer who had an affair with one of the young girls.
“Martin Luther King said that ‘horrible things happen when good men keep there mouths shut,’” Koonce said. “That’s ‘The Crucible.’ That’s exactly what happens. Good men kept their mouths shut and a lot of people died.”
During the witch trials hundreds of people were tried and 20 were executed, all but one by hanging.
“He’s writing about moral cowardice, politics before justice — that’s what goes on in this play,” Koonce said. “He’s a writer that believes you truly are your brother’s keeper. He writes from the position of moral standing.”
Purple Door’s take on the play is in the not-too-distant future, but still with the language and values of the 1600s.
“That’s the beauty of it. You take and update the setting and the clothing but you keep the language,” said Matt Jacobs, who plays the part of the Rev. John Hale.
“We want people to look at the show and not go ‘oh this is something that happened in the 1600s.’ We want people to look at this and go, ‘Wow this could happen today,’” Davis said.
The story will be presented in-the-round — meaning the audience will be sitting on the stage in a circle with the action in the center.
“We looked at ourselves and we said maybe this is one of the things that can set us apart from everybody else is that we are working that intimately where the audience cannot get away from the show,” Koonce said.
In Act 3, there is an intense scene in the courtroom during which the actors will interact with the audience as if they are in court themselves.
“That’s what it’s like in a small town,” Koonce said. “Here, everybody shows up at town hall meetings, everybody shows up at the board of ed meeting, everybody shows up at something like this. They would all want to come and see, so break the fourth wall and just talk to them.”
Koonce said she chose the Miller play not only because of it’s relevance to the issues of today, but also because of the language and the way the story is told.
“By trade and training I’m a singer and so I love playwrights who really, really deal with the English language,” she said. “In ‘The Crucible,’ he’s using a New England type of dialect and a certain kind of phrasing, which makes the language sound poetic.”
The 18-member cast has been working on the show for five weeks. The cast also includes Wynona Oxendine, Elizabeth Ronson, Sarah Fox, Amber Jensen, Brittany Vadnais, Kallie Watts, Kayla Oxendine, Stanley Seay, Paul Woolverton, Jennifer Sell, William Collier, Stacey Couey, Gary Clayton, Toni Lee, Zion McMillan and Jennifer Sell.
Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with 2:30 p.m. matinees Saturday and Feb. 4 in the A.D. Lewis Auditorium of Robeson Community College. The shows last two hours.
Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for students, RCC students and staff. Tickets may be purchased by calling Purple Door Productions at 910-224-4000 at the RCC Foundation office or online at pdp-crucible.brownpapertickets.me.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached by phone at 910-416-5865 or by email at [email protected]