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Conjuring New Heat in ‘The Crucible’

Marlena Becker, right; with Molly McMillen, Shelby Clark and Eliana Alcouloumre, counterclockwise; in “The Crucible,” opening this week. Photo by Roark Gourley

Marlena Becker, right; with Molly McMillen, Shelby Clark and Eliana Alcouloumre, counterclockwise; in “The Crucible,” opening this week. Photo by Roark Gourley

By Tad Heitmann, Special to the Independent

Laguna Beach High School’s Park Avenue Players have forged their own intense interpretation of Arthur Miller’s classic American cautionary tale, “The Crucible,” which opens a seven-performance run on Friday, May 24, at 7:30 p.m.

Featuring an entirely original prologue depicting the forbidden events that unleash the subsequent hysteria, the production also places the audience in close proximity to all the action with seating directly on the Artists’ Theatre stage.

One of the most important plays in the history of American literature, Miller’s searing recreation of the Salem witch trials was written as an allegory of the evils of McCarthyism, which he himself endured, and is read by most high school juniors. Set in late 17th century Massachusetts, the play explores the dynamics of inquisitorial power, the impact of ignorance and intolerance, and the manipulation of fear and self-preservation as the accusations of witchcraft fly and the innocent are judged.  In the 60 years since its original staging, and despite its historical setting, the play has lost none of its relevance.

“We live in our own age of anxiety and these young actors have seen contemporary examples of paranoia, intolerance, and injustice at work in the world,” said Mark Dressler, who co-directed the production with Amanda Saunders. “They brought these observations to their roles and are delivering performances with stunning authenticity and great emotional power that will really connect with the audience, including their peers.”

The Park Avenue Players have also brought their own, fresh interpretation to the structure of the play itself.  Student musicians Dylan DelPizzo-Howell and Elliot Glass developed an original percussive score that amplifies the emotional intensity of the drama.  Working with choreographer Erika Whalen, these musical collaborators have also fashioned a new opening prologue for the show that recreates the dance in the forest that sets conservative Salem ablaze with witchcraft fever.

“We have created, literally from scratch, a haunting and intriguing re-enactment of the young girls of Salem conjuring in the woods,” said choreographer and assistant director Whalen.  “Our intention was to heighten the stakes for the girls, for the course of the rest of the show – to really show where they came from through their participation in this event.  Adding this new material also sets the tone of the whole play and draws the audience in from the very first moment.”

Performances: May 24, 25, 30, and 31 as well as June 1 at 7:30 p.m.; May 26 and June 2 at 2:30 p.m.

Students $10; adults $15. The LBHS Box Office opens two hours prior to each performance. Call 949-497-7769 for more information.

 Local parent Tad Heitmann is a drama fan.

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