Elected in the midst of America’s Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt assured the country we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Twenty years later it was fear of Communism that allowed Senator Joseph McCarthy to destroy the reputation and lives of fellow Americans on the word of any “reliable” informant that the accused had pro-communist leanings. It became a modern-day witch hunt, with people found guilty of being communist sympathizers on little to no evidence except the testimony of others, testimony that at times was simply created to bring down hated rivals for personal or financial reasons.

Masterful playwright Arthur Miller made his views on McCarthyism known quite clearly in his 1952 play The Crucible, a drama based on the Salem witch trials of 1692 when the suspect testimony of a few young girls, along with some crafty businessmen who stood to gain land from the accusations, would send nineteen innocent people to their deaths. In the play version of events (which uses much dramatic license), the girls took their lead from Abigail Williams, a teenage girl who wanted the married John Proctor for herself and saw the accusation of devil-inspired witchcraft as a way to get John’s wife Elizabeth eliminated. Aided by the support of the wealthy and greedy Rev. Parris, they cast a spell of fear on the town that would make it dangerous for anyone to defend the accused.

Director Jim Chatham and the company at Granite Hills Acting Workshop took up this timely play and put on a strong production of it. Danielle Holbach stars in the choice role of Abigail Williams – the young woman having an affair with John Proctor who leads the younger girls in the deadly charade, coldly but passionately determined to destroy John’s wife Elizabeth. Russell Emmons plays John Proctor with desperation, disbelief, regret, and anger over the injustice, while Stephanee Asch is his wife Elizabeth, the innocent victim frightened by things spinning out of control and the specter of death, but never completely broken to the point of giving in. Ricky Hendrickson is superb as Mary Warren, the Proctor’s young servant girl torn between the enjoyment of power and safety of being with the accusers, and the pain of bearing the guilt that comes with it.

Other fine performances come from Richard Mayer as the arrogant and disdainful Rev. Parris who encourages the wrongful killings in God’s name in order to further his holdings, Matt Rose as Rev. John Hale who, though initially timid, slowly begins to take a brave stance on the side of the wrongfully accused, Amanda Maples as the good Rebecca Nurse who gets caught in the net of fear, Shannon Fitzpatrick as Ann Putnam whose tragic pregnancies make her a distraught but uncertain pawn of more sinister forces, and Matthew Farrell as Judge Danforth whose pursuit of justice wavers between wanting facts and accepting misplaced faith. The entire cast deserves credit for keeping their focus in this often intense drama despite some uncommonly disrespectful “devils” in the audience on the night I attended.

Many critics panned the much later film version, dismissing the story as irrelevant now that the McCarthy hearings had long-since ended, blissfully unaware that there will always be evils out there, both real and imagined, that can be taken advantage of, allowing for the taking away of a person’s freedom and due process because of fears held by the majority – whether it be hangings for fear of witches 300 years ago, blacklistings for fear of communists 50 years ago, or indefinitely incarcerating citizens without legal counsel or trial prompted by more recent fears. Miller suggests it is the people who abuse such fear and those who say nothing while such abuses are perpetrated who are ultimately responsible, while everyone else suffers the unjust consequences.

Performed through November 20, 2004.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

John Proctor: Russell Emmons
Abagail Williams: Danielle Holbach
Rev. John Hale: Matt Rose
Elizabeth Proctor: Stephanee Asch
Rev. Parris: Richard Mayer
Rebecca Nurse: Amanda Maples
Francis Nurse: John Quinonez
Judge Danforth: Matthew Farrell
Giles Corey: Curtis Pfhaler
Thomas Putnam: Patrick Woodland
Ann Putnam: Shannon Fitzpatrick
Ruth Putnam/Sara Good: Patricia Kam
Tituba: Brianne Pancheco
Mary Warren: Ricky Hendrickson
Betty Parris: Danae Goward
Martha Corey: Kara Blomily
Ezekiel Cheever: Danny Opfer
Judge Hathorne: Ray Naseath
Willard: Sidney Franklin
Mercy Lewis: Caitlen Finch

Director: Jim Chatham
Assistant Director: AJ Porter
Stage Manager: Barbara Keeler
Sets: Dan Thale
Lights: Wes Leves
Sound: Dan Thale


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