By Remy Sisk
As we approach Halloween, local theatre has several options for whatever your particular flavor of macabre might be. For those interested in classic terror and drama, there’s Actors Theatre’s “Dracula.” For those looking for campy cult-classics, there’s Acting Against Cancer’s “The Rocky Horror Ball.” But for those looking for more suspense complemented by world-class acting and some of the most revered writing in American theatre, Commonwealth Theatre Center’s “The Crucible,” which opened last weekend, could be the show for you.
Commonwealth Theatre Center, which is the rebranded name of the Walden Theatre and Blue Apple Players 2015 merger, still maintains both facets of the two companies that came together to create this single entity. While Blue Apple Outreach focuses on the organization’s work in the community and in schools, Walden Theatre Conservatory is the name of the educational institution that is the region’s largest theatre conservatory for those aged 5 to 18.
Comprised of 270 students, the conservatory offers a robust season each year, seasons that are rife with rich acting opportunities for students as well as engaging theatregoing opportunities for the community at large. Over the last several years, Walden has taken it a step further by annually producing one show per year that features its professional adult company. In the past, these shows have included just a few student actors alongside the adults; however, with this production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” running through October 21, the cast is half-and-half professionals and students.
Set in the time of the Salem witch trials, “The Crucible” examines the complex relationships and mass hysteria that permeated the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the late 1600s while also serving as a razor-sharp allegory for the mid-20th-century McCarthyism in the U.S. The characters range widely in age – from the teenage girls hurling accusations and possibly false claims to the mid-30s protagonists and the older townspeople as well. Walden is consequently presenting the show with a cast that Artistic Director Charlie Sexton calls “age-appropriate,” in which students play the younger characters and professional actors portray the adults. For example, in the central roles of John and Elizabeth Proctor are Jon O’Brien and Hallie Dizdarevic, both themselves Walden alums who in fact graduated together in 2004. Meanwhile, Frances Rippy, a current senior in the conservatory, will be playing the pivotal role of Abigail Williams.
In regards to the conservatory’s presentation of the play, Sexton emphasizes that he will be strictly presenting it as written as opposed to transporting the story to another time or situation, as is so often done elsewhere. “I’ve heard of productions of ‘The Crucible’ where they set it in modern day, wearing suits and ties and school uniforms and things of that nature, and I have nothing against that,” he says. “But in this case, we’re doing it straight-up to the best of our ability and letting the audience draw their own conclusions. ”
“The Crucible” is also connected to the more educational side of Walden. In fact, the season and curriculum regularly work in tandem so that the students are deeply studying texts that are similar to those in production: “What we have is sort of a five-year wheel when we plan our seasons because our seasons are very much tied to our curriculum in the advanced classes. For example, we’re about to proceed to Greek drama classwork in their rotation so that they’re studying it while at the same time performing or seeing a Greek play,” Sexton elaborates, referring to “The Comedy of Oedipus: You’re the One Who Killed the Beast” later this year and “The Trojan Women” in early 2018.
“The Crucible” is indeed the rare confluence of a wonderful educational experience for students, a stellar showcase of professional actors and a suspenseful script perfect for the time of year. It’s an iconic piece of drama that will not only allow actors of all ages to shine but also bring the multifaceted, timeless themes of “The Crucible” into present-day audiences’ minds. As Sexton maintains, “It’s like cooking with the best ingredients you can find.” VT
Continues through October 21