SYVUHS Theatre Group presents ‘The Crucible’

The cast of “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller includes, left to right, Richard Taylor, Rose and Mikale Mikelsen at the SYVUHS Little Theatre.

Staff Report

The Santa Ynez High School Theatre Group has chosen playwright Arthur Miller’s classic allegorical play “The Crucible” as its fall production, which will show at 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Nov. 30 through Dec. 9.

One of Miller’s best-known works, written in 1952, “The Crucible” is a dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692-93. Miller wrote the play as an allegory for McCarthyism, when the United States government ostracized people for being or associating with communists.

Miller himself was questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1956 and convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to “name names” of others present at meetings he had attended.

The play was first performed on Broadway on January 22, 1953, and the production won the 1953 Tony Award for Best Play.  It is regarded as a central work in the canon of American drama.

For this production, Theatre Group director Jeff McKinnon, while embracing the psychological realism of the play, has added an additional visual component of actors in aerial fabric surrounding the action.

“I want to present a production of “The Crucible” that will upend people’s expectations or prior knowledge of the play, give them a fresh look, by introducing the additional layer of an abstract visual narrative, all the while having my actors dig deeply into the intense psycho-realism of the characters and dialogue.”

Calling it “a counter and abstract visual narrative,” McKinnon says the actors in the “silks” represent the teenage girls who act out the frenzy of being possessed by forces of the occult, and are the primary accusers of witchcraft practiced by Salem townspeople.

The Theatre Group has used aerial fabric in the past, dating back to the 2012 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and last used it in the 2015 production of “Dark of the Moon.”

McKinnon’s senior English class has just completed “The Crucible” as part of a literary unit that includes “The Scarlet Letter” and Lillian Hellman’s memoir of testifying before HUAC, “Scoundrel Time.”

The actors who inhabit the silks, or “flyers” who dangle above the stage and audience, have gone through hours of intense physical and safety training and choreography. They have been mentored by veteran “flyers,” who in turn were mentored by some of the flyers who underwent the initial training back in 2012.

This mentorship program will continue into next school year’s planned spring production of “Treasure Island.”

“What these young actors have accomplished is astonishing, as they have basically self-taught themselves some of the stunts they’ve adopted to suit various critical dramatic moments in the play. Essentially what we have is aerial choreography.”

“The Crucible” features a 31 student-actor ensemble and a four-student technical crew. Lights and costumes are designed by longtime Theatre Group collaborators David and Tatiana Johnson.

Performances run Thursdays through Saturdays from Nov. 30 through Dec. 9. General Admission tickets, sold at the door, are $10 for adults and $5 for students. Due to some intense and provocative moments, this production may not be suitable for small children.

For more information, call 688-6487, ext. 2361.