“The Crucible” has been produced for the stage thousands of times since Arthur Miller wrote his Tony Award-winning play about the Salem witch trials back in 1952, and the work also spawned two major motion pictures and numerous television productions.
Jen Werner feels like she’s seen most of them.
“The first time I saw it I was a sophomore in high school, and I just fell in love with it,” said Werner, who is directing the Classic Theater Guild production of Miller’s masterpiece beginning Friday night at 8 at the Fenimore Gallery in Proctors. “I’ve seen it many, many times, many different productions, and I also own the movie version which I watch over and over again.”
‘The Crucible,’ by the Classic Theater Guild
WHERE: Fenimore Gallery, Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3-5, 2 p.m. Nov. 6
HOW MUCH: $17.50-$14.50
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
The production Werner and the Classic Theater Guild are putting together for the next three weekends, however, will be something a bit different than all the other versions that have gone before it.
“What we’ve done is add a few things at the beginning and a few more things at the end,” said Werner, a native of Teaneck, N.J., and a Waterford resident for the past 10 years. “There were things that were implied in the play but not seen, and we’re showing them, and we’ve also incorporated two characters into our play that were only spoken of before. We contacted the people who owned the rights to the play, and they said it was fine.”
The play is based on actual events that occurred in Salem, Mass., in 1692, but Miller did change or alter many of the elements of the story, including the ages of the two primary characters, John Proctor and Abigail Williams. In the play, Miller makes Abigail 17 instead of 12 to allow for a physical relationship with Proctor, a much older man.
“It’s based on what actually happened, but Miller definitely changed some of the facts, like Abigail’s age,” said Werner. “But it was an incredibly fascinating time in history, and Miller follows that history pretty well.”
In the Classic Theater Guild production, Dan Martin plays Proctor, Leslie Eliashuk is his wife, Elizabeth, and Danielle Beach is Abigail.
“I had some people in mind for certain roles, but we had a very large turnout for auditions, and then everything changed at the call-backs,” said Werner. “People showed me some things that I just didn’t see at the first audition, so I had to change some of my ideas.”
Martin is a Schenectady resident who was in the Classic Theater Guild’s first production, “Inherit the Wind,” in 2003. Joining Martin, Eliashuk and Beach on the stage are Jon South as the Rev. Samuel Parris, Sadie Buerker as Betty Parris, Karen Christina as Tituba, John Nickles as the Rev. John Hale, Lucy Breyer as Rebecca Nurse and Jenny Depew as Martha Corey.
“The Crucible” was first produced at the Martin Beck Theater on Broadway in January of 1953, and although the reviews were mixed — some were quite negative — it won the Tony for Best Play and for Best Featured Actress (Beatrice Straight as Elizabeth). With some criticism from Miller, the play was restaged the following year, became a commercial success and began being produced by regional theaters around the country.
Before writing “The Crucible,” Miller had already won a Tony for his 1947 play “All My Sons,” and in 1949 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for “Death of a Salesman.” Miller wrote “The Crucible” during the height of the McCarthy period, when many of the playwright’s colleagues were being subpoenaed before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities for pro-Communist beliefs, real or suspected. Miller himself was called before Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s group in 1956, and like his protagonist in “The Crucible” refused to implicate anyone.
The first movie version came in 1957 with Jean-Paul Sartre directing the French adaptation, “Les Sorcieres de Salem.” Miller, who died in 2005 at the age of 89, adapted the script himself for the 1996 movie, “The Crucible,” with Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder. Back in 1967, a television version was produced with George C. Scott playing Proctor and Colleen Dewhurst as Elizabeth.
In 2002, a Broadway revival with Liam Neeson and Laura Linney earned six Tony nominations.
“The Crucible” is Werner’s debut at directing a full production in the Capital Region, although she has a number of community theater directing credentials in the New Jersey area. Since moving to the Capital Region, she has worked with the Spotlight Players and the Colonial Little Theatre, and earlier this year was in a production of “Vagina Monologues” at Cafe 217 in Albany. She has been involved in all aspects of the theater business.
“I started acting when I was 3, and I’ve done just about everything that needs to be done in the theater,” she said. “I’ve been a stage manager, makeup person, usher, whatever was needed.”
Werner was trained in makeup design at William Paterson College in New Jersey and is planning on going back to school to study psychodrama therapy.
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