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Accusations of witchcraft will fly in Ames Courtroom at Harvard Law School (HLS) next month when a cast of law students and undergraduates stages The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s critically-acclaimed play about the infamous 1692 trials in Salem, Mass.
HLS Professor of Law Bruce L. Hay, the show’s producer and director, said the play is the first in a series of semiannual on-campus productions that he will organize to “educate and entertain” the University community and the public.
“My motivation for doing this,” Hay said last week before rehearsal, “was that the new dean [Elena Kagan] is trying to augment the intellectual life of the law school here by holding various forums and conferences where people come and speak on legal issues.”
Hay, who is teaching a new class at HLS on the connection between the law and drama, said he wanted to complement those events by staging dramatic performances that address legal and moral questions. “It’s sort of like an aesthetic or artistic counterpart to formal conferences,” he said.
For this show, Hay has interpreted the play in a unique way and included a scene which was written in the original script but was omitted in later productions.
A MODERN INTERPRETATION
While the 1953 play could be viewed as a commentary on the McCarthy era, Hay said he decided mid-way through casting to approach it with a different interpretation.
“The idea occurred to me rather quickly that you could easily read it as a parable about racial injustice,” he said. “There’s so much language in the play about separating black from white.”
Hay said he recognized that the playwright used the terms symbolically, but felt they could be taken more literally.
“Miller was clearly using the terms ‘white’ and ‘black’ metaphorically to refer to ideological differences,” he said. “But I just think that that’s very ironic because he wrote it in 1953, and it was only a year later that Brown v. Board was handed down and it was only two years later that Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus and the Montgomery boycott started and Martin Luther King became famous and the Civil Rights movement became the leading national issue.”
“So it’s odd that he was using the terms unmetaphorically when they were about to become the literal center of debate in the country,” Hay said.
The production corresponds with the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, a fact which Hay called “a happy coincidence.”
Hay said the play resonated with research he had done in the past on the history of lynching and “extra-legal justice.”
“It also really struck me that the trials all begin when a black woman steps out of her boundaries and gets the girls to start dancing,” he said. “The play is about the perceived troubles that begin when whites start mixing with blacks.”
For these reasons, the production will be “relatively modernist,” according to Hay. Actors will not be dressed in period costumes and Hay has decided to incorporate “some musical accompaniment that calls to mind blues and black music of the first half of the 20th-century, so much of which in one way or another was about the injustices that blacks faced, how hard life was as a black person,” he said.
Additionally, Hay will include a scene in the production that is rarely performed.
“Miller took it out for reasons I’m not entirely sure of,” Hay said. “I think it adds a crucial element.”
In the scene, Abigail—the character who instigates the witchcraft trials by accusing villagers of practicing black magic—vows to make the world “white once more,” according to Hay.
Although the cast does contain some people of color, Hay said he had hoped to have a more racially diverse band of actors. Nevertheless, Hay said, “We’re doing everything we can to use lights and sound and acting talent to enact a very electrifying production.”
GETTING INTO CHARACTER
The 27-member cast is composed predominately of HLS students but also includes some undergraduates. “The script calls for about 20 [people], but I’ve added to the number of girls who accuse people of witchcraft because the number in real life was actually much larger than the number Arthur Miller used,” Hay said.
During a break in rehearsal last week, Joseph A. Nuccio ’00, a third-year HLS student who plays Reverend Parris, the local minister in Salem, recounted between bites of pizza what had happened in the scene he had just performed.
“The person who was lying on the bed was playing the part of my daughter who is comatose and won’t wake up and we don’t know why,” said Nuccio, who was actively involved in theater as an undergraduate, starring in Voltaire’s Candide and a number of other shows. “At the end of the act it’s revealed that she was bewitched and the girl who was crying out about working for Satan and seeing other witches is my servant, Tituba, and soon after all that my niece Abigail will then do the same thing and start naming all these names of people they saw with Satan, who will end up being hung.”
“Mass hysteria,” he quipped.
Throughout the rehearsal, Hay intermittently mouthed the words of the script as the actors spoke them.
While it is still early in the rehearsal process, Nuccio said he was happy with the progress. “I think we’re moving along at a good clip, and [Hay] seems to be working very hard,” he said.
In order to prepare Ames Courtroom, the site of moot court competitions and other court proceedings, for the April 20 opening, Hay has undertaken the task of rewiring the 300-seat auditorium to accommodate stage lights.
Nuccio commended Hay, saying that it would “help very much for future shows at the Law School.”
Chris N. Hanley ’07 is playing the role of John Proctor, a farmer who becomes entangled in the court proceedings when his wife is accused of being a witch and it is revealed that he committed adultery.
Hanley, who performed in Noises Off last semester and auditioned through Common Casting for The Crucible, said it is his favorite show.
“I’ve always loved theater productions that carry some kind of moral,” Hanley said. “I think this is a very powerful play. I think the characters represent humanity, what we are, our fears and our emotions, and how easy it is to fall prey to point fingers in any society, in any context,” he said. “This play really shows how dangerous that can be.”
Hanley characterized the cast as “wonderful” and said he appreciated the opportunity to work with Law School students.
“It’s amazing to see how similar they are to us...It really bridges the college and law school experience,” he said.
Eda Pepi ’06, who portrays a bewitched girl and can also be seen in Harvard’s soap opera, Ivory Towers, said Hay is a “great director” and also praised his acting ability.
“He’s a good actor himself, so if someone is missing [from rehearsal], he’ll jump in,” Pepi said.
ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE
Hay says he has no formal training in theater, but sees similarities among performing on the stage, in the court and in the classroom.
The title of his new class, “The Conscious of the King,” is drawn from a speech in Hamlet.
A tenured member of the HLS faculty since 1998, Hay is a civil procedure and litigation expert. He joined the faculty as an assistant professor of law in 1992, four years after graduating from HLS. He is believed to be the first professor to produce and direct a play at HLS.
Hay says his job as a professor has prepared him for some of the challenges of directing.
“I like to tell people my only background in theater is in the classroom,” he said. “In some ways, the Socratic classroom is a theater in that there’s a lot of dialogue and a lot of role playing, both by students and by professors.
“The classroom is a sort of stage,” he added.
The Crucible runs from April 20-24. The show is open to the public. Tickets are available starting Thursday at the Harvard Box Office.
—Staff writer Andrew C. Esensten can be reached at email@example.com.
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