I just recently saw The Crucible at Clarence Brown Theatre and loved it. This post is about the play’s context. I’ll skip ahead to actually talking about the performance in the next post. I also promise future theater reviews will be written when people can actually see the play and apologize for publishing both of these reviews after the play concluded its run.
The political movement called McCarthyism or the Second Red Scare wasn’t good, but it wasn’t the worst moment in this country by any means compared to plenty else that has gone wrong. Yet the commie hunters of that era did something that left an impact in a way plenty of other worse atrocities might not have. They went after artists.
Artists, meanwhile, shot back. The era gave us two plays that dealt with McCarthyism indirectly, by way of earlier events. People still perform both to this day: Inherit the Wind and The Crucible. It’s hard to tell what an author’s intentions are, but that’s the consensus on the inspiration for both plays. The 1950s lacked either the strong creationist or satanic panic movements that would later surface, meaning that fears of witchcraft and fears of evolution were acceptable targets.Both featured romance angles not present in the
They’re wildly different plays, however. Inherit the Wind criticizes its one cynical character. Nearly everyone believes in what they’re doing with a sincerity that even message movies seem afraid of nowadays. Its tacked-on love story is sweet.
The Crucible is a dark story of backstabbing and flawed characters, perfect, in a way, for the present Game of Thrones era full of dark and cynical entertainment, even though all the violence and nudity is offstage. It’s tacked-on love story is one of adultery, guilt and repentance.
The red scare seems to have returned in other forms. People are crossing out the word “Communist” in old outdated speeches and writing “Muslim” or “Radical Islam.” This substitution makes no sense much of the time. Meanwhile, some people on the other side of the fence are still treating “ties to Russia” like it still means the same thing it used to.
The commentary is not just about McCarthyism however. It also tackled other fears of the era, as with its black servant Tituba, accused of corrupting children with “Barbados music”i.e. Rock ‘n Roll which was still considered black music at the time.
The play can’t just be reduced to topical themes, however. After all, the play deliberately calls out the witch trials for their death toll, an aspect not present in the original play. Old vs. young, fear vs. reason, repentance, redemption and standing up to authority in the face of fear will probably always stay relevant.
Next Post: The performance.