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Bemidji State: 'The Crucible' opens Friday

Reverend Hale (Jesse Villarreal), right, pleads with Mary Proctor (Elizabeth McGregor) to ask her husband to confess while Judge Danforth (Brian Donovan) looks on during the rehearsal ofThe Crucible," which opens this week at Bemidji State University. Pioneer Photo/Pat Rall

"The Crucible," a production of the theater department of Bemidji State University, opens this week at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23.

Performance dates are Oct. 23-24, 30, 31 and a matinee performance at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1. All performances will be on the main stage of Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex on the campus of BSU.

The play, written by Arthur Miller, is based loosely on the Salem witch trials of 1692 in a Puritan colony in Massachusetts. The play, however, was, in fact, Miller's attempt to examine the hysteria of what is known as the McCarthy era and the investigations of the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s.

"The play is not a museum piece as such; he (Miller) switched the identities of characters and took a lot of artistic license, I think, because the important part of the play is the discussion of how we link the power of accusation of rumor, power and fear into a move toward political power," said director Patrick Carriere, assistant professor of theater and communication arts. "How we use those things to gain personal or political power - unfortunately it is always pertinent and we have to be reminded of this."

Although written in 1953, "The Crucible" remains relevant and is part of the canon of American literature.

Miller wants to remind us not to fall prey to baseless accusations. One focus of witchcraft accusers was women -- women who served as spiritual leaders, healers, women living a lifestyle not prescribed by the times (St. Joan of Arc, a soldier), or many others who caused fear because they lived in a different way -- and that is a big part of the play, in fact, central to it, according to Carriere. How do we make our opinions and on what they are based is a universal question, and "The Crucible" brings that question forth: "Who do you believe?"

The play is intended for those high school-aged and older.

The cast includes many students who are acting for the first time. There was a large turnout of freshmen at auditions, possibly due to increased enrollment this year at BSU.

The play includes members from throughout the campus community, not only those who are theater majors.

"Every time I do a play, the way I do it changes with the play itself," Carriere said. "The students had, first, to study the text of the play, feel the rhythm and understand the poetry that is in it. One of the most powerful things in this work is the language.

"Arthur Miller wrote an almost modern Shakespearean piece in 'The Crucible.' There are some very beautiful and powerful speeches. Although there is action at times, the power is in the spoken word. (The play) is a real modern tragedy."

On opening night, there will be a talk-back following the performance with Larry Skillin, an assistant professor who will discuss the history of witchcraft, and Robert Treuer, who will speak on his life experiences.

Included in the audience on Saturday will be returning cast members from Bemidji State College's 1959 production of "The Crucible."

The original director, Bill Marchand, and some of the players: Ozzie Tollefson (John Proctor), Lenore Leaders (Abigail), Jim Rude (Judge Danforth), Mark Paulson (Giles Corey), Everett Marshall (the Rev. Hale), Gretchen Heath (Mary Warren), and technical crew representative Will Marwitz, will be in attendance.

Photos of the 1959 production will be on display in the Ramsey Gallery on the ground floor of Bangsberg.

Tickets for "Crucible" are on sale now in Room 101 at Bangsberg. Box office hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tickets also will be sold at the door at each performance. Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for students and senior citizens; and free for BSU students with a valid ID.