Attending a live theatre performance always gives me a thrill, you never know what will happen off script. Like the time I experienced the ever delightful Debbie Reynolds perform the lead role in the musical “Irene” on the road at the Muni Opera in St. Louis. It was the Summer of 1973, and I was but a lass of 13 years. But it was also the year of the cicada’s–large flying winged creatures that only infested areas every 17 years–and they were out in force. One cicada landed near a floor microphone near the front of the stage and its song was drowning out the performance. Ms. Reynolds did the only thing she could do. She stopped mid song–though maintained character–and walked over to the cicada and pointed at it boisterously. The dashing male lead strode over purposefully to her/Irene’s side, loudly stomped on and squashed the bugger (literally a bug). Ms. Reynolds swooned, “My hero” into the male lead’s waiting arms. The audience roared with applause and laughter and then the musical resumed. Priceless!
That is the kind of live theatre event that only happens by chance. And though actors hope that there won’t be mishaps, there sometimes are. Like the time I was in college and was doing an interpretive play reading with my partner at a speech tournament. It was supposed to be high comedy, so once again, I moved my hand dramatically to hit my forehead with the back of my wrist. However this time, I had not accounted for the fact that I was wearing a solid gold band bracelet on my wrist–that connected with my forehead with such force that I literally stunned myself, and drew blood. Yes, folks, I might not have vomited or passed water as Richard Armitage confessed to doing in his bravura riveting performance as John Proctor in The Crucible during the Summer of 2014 at The Old Vic in London (image right), but I gave myself a mini concussion, and I bled down my forehead as my brain scrambled to collect my thoughts and get back to the scene. Ah, what we do for art.
And though I was not fortunate enough to experience the exquisitely talented British actor Richard Armitage and the amazing cast of The Crucible in person, I will still have the chance to experience it–courtesy of Digital Theatre having filmed performances in the final week of the show’s run and editing them into a film to be streamed later. Though there are likely to be no “mishaps” revealed in this film–they had the luxury of editing out any that might have occurred–I am keen to discover what other revelations experiencing this production will have for me. Theatre and film serve to illuminate the human condition–sometimes reflecting it, sometimes suggesting what never was, sometimes suggesting what could be. In a world where honor and truth are fluid concepts, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible under the skillful direction of Yael Farber purports to crystallize the meaning of honor and of truth for us by illustrating their vagaries through the lives of John Proctor and his neighbors as their community disintegrates and lives are lost.
Several scenes in this production of The Crucible have been touted by fans and critics alike as powerful, moving, unsettling, or heartbreaking–none more so than what I euphemistically refer to as the cleansing scene. The description of the scene in which John Proctor, stands at his wash basin at the end of the day, washing off the day’s sweat and grime (Grati’s cap right), reminded me of the scenes of the coal miners doing so in the 1941 film How Green was My Valley. The coal miners had to scrub and scrub to get the black soot off of themselves, before they could feel human again above the surface of the Earth.
But for John Proctor, his need to cleanse his soul and purge his feelings of guilt go far beyond the cleansing properties of water. I sense that John Proctor’s vulnerability counterpointed by his commanding invigorating presence are illustrated by him doffing his shirt and appearing bare chested (image left) to complete his cleansing–a revelation that I will have to wait to confirm when I see the filmed stage production of The Crucible starring Richard Armitage.
At the end of the play The Crucible, the proud and honorable and commanding John Proctor is stripped bare figuratively, if not literally, such that only his honor remains–or perhaps, is recovered–as his life will soon become a sacrifice to misdeeds by others, his world shattered and is in tatters, like his clothing, falling to pieces around him. Honor, truth, and justice–as I fear John Proctor discovers–can be lonely companions. But still, he tenaciously clings to these virtues (Grati’s wallpaper, right) as his lifeline.
I honestly don’t know how I will feel about watching John Proctor’s destruction when I view Richard Armitage portraying him in The Crucible. I will possibly be wondering that if John Proctor who had so much prestige and was so good–except for his lapse of adultery, and perhaps, the conceit of pride–could be brought low by unfounded accusations, what help is there for the rest of us ordinary folk who are just trying to be the best we can as we live our lives? Would I be able to withstand such a test of conscience? Would I be able to be strong against the pressure to betray myself and my principles to receive whatever meager crumbs of acceptance that those I hold dear might give me? And does redemption require a sacrifice that is too great to bear? And finally, will John Proctor’s example of courage and conviction bolster my own sense of self when I need it to, is a revelation that I perceive will occur for me when I experience the filmed version of The Crucible stage production.