Timely themes in ‘The Crucible’

Seabury Hall, MAPA join forces on production

Taylor Takatani (from left), Bailey Dalzell, Tia Elisha Hill, Camille Erdman and Marley Mehring will perform in “The Crucible,” presented by Seabury Hall Performing Arts & Maui Academy of Performing Arts. Peter Swanzy photo

Two years ago when I profiled the Kamehameha Schools Maui production of “The Crucible,” I highlighted Arthur Miller’s less than subtle political statement by means of his play about the Salem witch trials. When it debuted in 1956, it was blatantly obvious to all that Miller was taking on Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Miller recognized similar fanaticism in 1692 Salem. After being called to testify before the committee, he was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to identify other entertainers present at communist meetings that he had attended in the 1930s. As a result of failing to name names Miller was blacklisted in Hollywood for several years.

In 2017, many are unaware of the Hollywood blacklist that banned alleged communist entertainers from working in film and on television for several years. Some of those individuals were Sir Richard Attenborough, Harry Belafonte, Leonard Bernstein, Charlie Chaplin, Lee J. Cobb, Lee Grant, Woody Guthrie, Dashiell Hammett, Lillian Hellman, Burl Ives, Burgess Meredith, Zero Mostel, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and Orson Welles.

In his play, Miller used factual names and the trial records from 1692, namely the judges, clergy, and the accusations of several teenage girls and Tituba (Tia Elisha Hill), a slave who was tortured until confessing to being a witch. Bearing witness to a society in crisis and hidden agendas that have devastating consequences, “The Crucible” is a timeless parable that is still relevant (if not more so) in the 21st century.

Featuring one of the most produced plays in America, Seabury Hall Performing Arts joins forces with the Maui Academy of Performing Arts to present a unique stage production with the audience surrounding the live action on all four sides of the stage and featuring student and adult actors.

Cast members of the Kamehameha Schools Maui production of “The Bullying Collection” pose onstage. Photo courtesy Kamehameha Schools Maui

“Bringing such a vital and enduring piece of theater to the stage is an exciting artistic adventure in itself. Being part of a process joining two of Maui’s prominent educational and artistic organizations deepens the experience for all of us,” says director David Johnston. “What a joy to participate with Seabury student actors and seasoned community players as we grapple with the profound philosophical ideas and heart-wrenching emotional truths of this play. This piece challenges us to examine who we are as individuals and consider what shapes us as a community.”

Abigail Williams (Camille Erdman), the primary accuser in the play, and her gang of teenage girls wreak havoc on Salem as personal vendettas lead to bearing false witness. Historically, more than 50 of the accused confessed to avoid prison, 28 denied their charges and were sentenced to death, 19 of the 28 were hung, and four women and one infant died in prison.

In December 1692, Massachusetts Gov. William Phips prohibited any further arrests, ordered the release of the accused and dissolved the Salem court. In December 1953, in and effort to end McCarthy’s reign of terror, Connecticut Sen. Prescott Bush (the father of President George H.W. Bush and grandfather of President George W. Bush) condemned him from the senate floor stating, “Either you must follow Senator McCarthy blindly, not daring to express any doubts or disagreements about any of his actions, or, in his eyes, you must be a communist, a communist sympathizer, or a fool who has been duped by the communist line.” By 1959, Hollywood producers began to defy the blacklist, and the House Committee on Un-American Activities was denounced as “un-American” by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

* Performances of “The Crucible” will be at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays this week through March 4, and at 3 p.m. March 5 at the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury campus in Makawao. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students. For more information or to purchase tickets online, visit www.seaburyhall.org.

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Director Camille Romero addresses a parallel topic at Kamehameha Schools Maui the week with “The Bullying Collection,” seven 10-minute plays that reflect modern playwrights’ unique take on school bullying.

The lengthier “The Bully Plays,” an anthology, includes 24 10-minute plays commissioned in response to the growing epidemic of bullying and its sometimes tragic results in 2015. Described as touching, imaginative, powerful, uplifting and funny, the collection, specifically crafted for youth theater, is intended to challenge, inspire and enlighten both teens and audiences as an aid in confronting the issue of bullying in a constructive and creative way.

“I chose this play because it is contemporary and relevant. It examines different types of bullying — obvious bullying like seniors to freshmen, and more subtle forms of bullying such as name-calling among friends. It also takes on different forms of cyber-bullying — especially relevant in these days of rampant social media,” says Romero. “From a cyber-bullying attack that puts a friendship to the test (“Dolphin“) to a group of former bullies that meets regularly to discuss their recovery (“Bullies Anonymous“), the plays range from the tragic to the comedic, but they all work to reveal a new perspective on a common problem.”

The seven plays chosen by Romero are “Bullies Anonymous” by E. M. Bell, “Dolphin” by Jonathan Dorf, “I Was There” by Sam Guzman, “Frosh in the Pit” by Alan Haehnel, “Gray Area” by Ian McWethy, “Say Nothing” by C. R. Wright and “Nerbullies and Other Strange Creatures” by Don Solids.

I asked if she had a favorite piece.

“There is so much to love in these plays. It’s hard to say which is my favorite.” she said. “I like ‘Say Nothing’ because it takes a look at what happens when people ‘say nothing,’ when they see bullying happen to other people.”

In “Say Nothing,” a popular class president, Emily (Mariana Kaniho), makes a beautiful speech about a classmate, Eliot, who committed suicide. Jack (Tehoni Naeole), best friend of Eliot, challenges her, wondering how she could say such glowing things when her boyfriend bullied him every day of high school. “Bullies Anonymous,” directed by KSM alumni Cole Schafer, takes a comedic slant at bullying through recovery-style meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous as recovering bullies discuss their struggles and are put to the ultimate test as a math nerd inadvertently wanders into their meeting.

* Performances of “The Bullying Collection” will be at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays this week through March 4, with a 2 p.m. matinee March 4, at the Keopuolani Hale on the Kamehameha Schools Maui campus in Pukalani. Admission is free.

UPCOMING

The Maui Arts & Cultural Center presents Sean Dorsey Dance in “THE MISSING GENERATION.” This powerful dance and theater work gives voice to longtime survivors of the early AIDS epidemic.

The show is a love letter to a forgotten generation of survivors — those who witnessed and experienced the loss of a significant portion of an entire generation of gay and transgender people to AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. Dorsey created the work over a two-year period by conducting oral history interviews with longtime survivors of the epidemic, doing archival research and hosting community residencies in six U.S. cities.

* The performance will be at 7:30 p.m. March 2 in Castle Theater at the MACC. Tickets range from $35 to $45 (plus applicable fees) and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.

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Maui OnStage presents “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” with book by Jeffrey Lane and, music and lyrics by David Yazbek. Lisa Teichner directs. Sophisticated and suave with a good dash of mischief, this comedy features a jazzy score by Yazbek (“The Full Monty”) and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards.

Lawrence Jameson (Steven Dascoulias) makes his lavish living by talking rich ladies out of their money. Freddy Benson (Ross McCully) more humbly swindles women by waking their compassion with fabricated stories about his grandmother’s failing health. After meeting on a train, they attempt to work together only to find that this small French town isn’t big enough for the two of them. They agree on a settlement – the first one to extract $50,000 from heiress Christine Colgate (Lia Krieg) wins and the other must leave town.

* Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays March 3 through 19 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets range from $20 to $40 and are available by calling 242-6969 or by visiting www.mauionstage.com.

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