Accusations of witchcraft swirl through Arthur Miller’s classic play The Crucible. This dramatization of the Salem Witch Trials draws parallels between the hysteria of a small New England town in 1692 and the 1950s accusations of communism that threatened Miller’s own freedom.
Salem witchhunts and the Red Scare have faded into history, but a collective fear of the unknown still permeates modern society, according to director Tana Jencks. Jencks is leading a group of community actors through the intricacies of The Crucible at Hendersonville Little Theatre this season.
Jencks believes that the power of mass hysteria is a dangerous thing, whether it’s an entire town hellbent on hanging young girls accused of witchcraft or a government committee determined to condemn accused communists.
“We all want to think that we wouldn’t do these things,” she says. “And yet, sometimes people in certain circumstances follow the crowd and need to name an enemy and to lash out and don’t seem to stop when it’s clearly wrong.”
The fear that permeated the United States in the years after 9/11 has awakened modern audiences’ need for theater that reckons with these issues, says Jencks. As Hendersonville Little Theatre enters its 50th season, it’s worth considering how its original audiences would react to this production.
“Our perspective is obviously different even from Arthur Miller’s. The way we view people’s behavior and actions has changed. What is it about this story that makes it still pertinent to people?” she wonders.
Hendersonville Little Theatre is known for its rousing musicals and comedies (other 2015 offerings include Dreamgirls and Arsenic and Old Lace), but it also produces weighty dramas. Last year’s performances of A Streetcar Named Desire and A Raisin in the Sun point to the company’s dedication to serious works.
The theater is entirely volunteer-run; its directors, stage managers, and cast are made up of community members with a deep appreciation for the craft. Jencks works to bring out their natural talents and nurture their ability to connect with the work.
“The more we understand the story we’re telling, and put ourselves in that perspective, the easier it is to put your mind there.”
As the actors explore the historical pull of the script, Jencks hopes that audiences will be drawn in as well.
“If the story touches you and affects you, that’s the power of a written play being brought to life in front of you.”
The Crucible will be performed August 21-23, 27-30, and September 3-6 at Hendersonville Little Theatre, 229 South Washington St., Hendersonville. See hendersonlittletheatre.org for ticket information. 828-692-1082.