by Dennis Dalman
In a Puritan village in 1692, fearful suspicions lead to pointing fingers, betrayals and charges of witchcraft in “The Crucible,” a play which opened Oct. 10 at Sartell High School.
The two remaining performances are set for 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11 and 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for students and free for senior citizens.
Directed by John Ronyak, English and theater teacher, “The Crucible” was written by famed playwright Arthur Miller and first performed on Broadway in 1953. It has since been widely performed in virtually every country in the world and was adapted to television and the movies.
“The Crucible” features a cast of 21 students who have been rehearsing the play since mid-August.
The tragic events in “The Crucible” begin when a group of young girls makes accusations of witchcraft after playing harmless ritual games in the forest. Soon, the village adults are caught up in the witch-hunting frenzy, and ulterior motives are transformed into vengeance, lies and betrayals, leading to the hanging of some villagers as witchcraft practitioners. The lead characters are farmers John and Elizabeth Proctor, husband and wife. Both must try to defend themselves against charges of witchcraft.
From its opening scene “The Crucible” casts a grim and sinister spell, a witch’s brew of paranoia and dread. There are mysterious illnesses, hallucinations, hysteria, odd behaviors and spiteful schemes. Everyone in the village is touched one way or another by the rapidly spreading contagion.
Miller based “The Crucible” on the witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692-93. Fourteen women and five men, convicted as witches or of practicing witchcraft, were hanged in a four-month period. One man was pressed to death under heavy rocks for refusing to plead guilty or not guilty to being a wizard (male form of a witch).
Miller’s play is also a reaction to the hysteria whipped up in the midst of the Cold War by U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who made claims the U.S. State Department, other agencies and the entertainment industry had been infiltrated by communists and communist sympathizers. In the early to mid-1950s, McCarthy led the House Un-American Activities Committee, which interrogated suspected communists, pressuring them to reveal names of others supposedly involved in anti-American activities. Miller himself, three years after writing “The Crucible,” was called before the committee and sentenced for contempt of court for not revealing names of “suspects.” He was fined and ordered to serve a month in jail. The conviction was overturned two years later. Accompanying Miller to the hearing was movie star Marilyn Monroe, his wife at that time.
Director Ronyak said he is tremendously impressed by the students’ dedication to the play and how hard they worked to perfect their ensemble performance.
“It is a challenging play to direct, much more difficult than I’d thought,” Ronyak said. “It’s so demanding of the actors. They’re really treating it with the care it needs. They are very focused. We discussed the play historically and its relevance to today’s world. The play has to do with the fear of being singled out.”
The play’s intensity and its somber drama, lacking any humorous relief, adds to the demands on the actors, Ronyak noted.
Ronyak and students decided to produce “The Crucible” while 11th-graders were reading the play in English class.
“We thought what a great opportunity it would be to perform the play ourselves,” he said.
Besides the play’s relevance to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, Ronyak said, it also offers many insights into the perversities of human behavior in cult situations and in tyrannical governments. Syria and the cults of Jim Jones in Guyana and David Koresh in Waco, Texas are just three examples of such situations, Ronyak noted.
The cast and crew of “The Crucible” are the following: Hannah Ronyak as Betty Parris; Austin Granzow as the Rev. Parris; Nicole Yang as Tituba; Jenna Sjogren as Abigail Williams; Tierra Pilles as Susanna Walcott; Katie Kulus as Mercy Lewis; Jillian Lawson as Mary Warren; Kayla Chisum as Mrs. Ann Putnam; Jack Verkuilen as Thomas Putnam; Elias Drake as John Proctor; Ryan Kororll as Giles Corey; Nick Hill as the Rev. Hale; Claire Kurvers as Elizabeth Proctor; Kennedy Gratke as Rebecca Nurse; Reece Decker as Francis Nurse; Matthew Schnettler as Ezekial Cheever; Michael McCoy as Marshall Willard Herrick; Nate Miller as Dep.-Gov. Danforth; Spencer Kight as Judge Hawthorne; Jordan Dockery as Ruth Putnam/Sarah Good; Aidan Nelson as Martha Corey; Stage manager: Bailey Mumm; Technical crew: Airianna Beitler, Megan McDermott, Mickey Czech and Josh Chisum; and Technical director: Jon Christianson.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.