Universal Crucible

By Daorcey Le Bray

For director Darold Roles, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible rings just as true today as it did 50 years ago when it dramatized the Salem witch hunts in the 1600s to critique the McCarthy trials of the 1950s. This latest production, presented by the University of Calgary’s Department of Drama, has a contemporary meaning that is difficult to miss.

“Crucible has some really important themes of fear and vengeance in our society,” says Roles. “What happens when terrorists attack the World Trade Center? The first thing everyone did was try to point a finger and find someone to blame.”

Roles is partially completing his MFA Thesis in Directing with this show. Crucible was one of five projects he submitted for faculty selection a year ago. Compared to the musicals and comedies he submitted with it, Roles admits it was one of the more serious pieces, but he has accepted the challenge of the morally-charged piece.

“I’m glad that they went with this show. It’s a little bit more outside my safety zone.”

The production’s demand of a large cast (22 characters played by 20 student actors) and an array of varying emotions is the first obvious challenge. Fortunately for Roles, neither is insurmountable. Previous directing credits such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Chicago attest to his ability to harness a large cast. As for the complex and layered emotions that come with any script from Arthur Miller, Roles doesn’t hesitate to point to his skilled actors who cover the undergrad spectrum from first to fourth year.

He refers to his show as “a chance for people to appreciate the great talent they have at the U of C.” Part of the talent he alludes to comes from MFA Design students Jessie Johnson and Lily Visser, who have addressed the challenges of set and costuming. Notably, Professor James Andrews is designing lights for Crucible.

Of course, another issue with directing this particular show comes from the fact that Crucible is now in its 5Oth year on Broadway; many people have seen the show, and if not, they are familiar with it from high school. What can a director do to make this presentation moderately extraordinary?

“I don’t think you’re going to see a Crucible again like this,” says Roles. His version includes sound and image montages of contemporary and historical subjects that come together with the original script to demonstrate the cyclical nature of the themes Miller originally explored with his play. Roles points out that one featured quote from President George W. Bush is almost identical to a line voiced by a Puritan judge near the end of the play.

Reflecting on the production, Roles attributes a special metaphor that describes his version of The Crucible: “burning embers of a fire about to burst into flame.” He is sure that a wide audience will benefit from the crucible he’s prepared.

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