Several young performers are taking on challenging roles in their staging of an Arthur Miller classic.
The young actors who have taken part in the Summer Youth Theatre program have never been shy about tackling ambitious productions.
In the past few years participants have acted in "West Side Story," "Cabaret" and "Romeo and Juliet," and now they are putting the finishing touches on another stage classic, Arthur Miller's "The Crucible."
"It's a brilliant, wonderful play and I love it dearly," said director Laurie VanderPol.
The play is a retelling of actual events that transpired during the 1692 witch trials in Salem, Mass.
Several young girls who were accused of practicing witchcraft took advantage of the situation and exacted revenge on the community, accusing those they held grudges against of leading them into spiritualism.
No one was safe from their accusations. If people stood up to the girls, they were denounced as trying to cover up their involvement. If defendants professed innocence, they were viewed as guilty.
Ultimately, the only way some could spare their lives was to admit to the crimes they had not committed and beg forgiveness of their supposed sins.
Those who refused to admit guilt for crimes they did not commit were executed.
"The story has suspense, intensity and multiple story layers, so it's great for actors to work with," VanderPol said.
To prepare for their roles, the actors have kept journals detailing what they think the play's theme is about. They also have done research, read textual analysis of the show and visited Web sites on Arthur Miller, chat rooms on "The Crucible" and even interactive sites on Salem and its infamous history.
VanderPol also has incorporated a critical text by Miller, in which he discusses his blending of historical fact with fiction and expands on various characters.
Miller wrote "The Crucible" in the 1950s at the height of the communist scare. Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee were leading a "witch hunt" of their own, looking at the Hollywood community for suspected communist sympathizers.
Several writers and actors were blacklisted as being communists. Though allegations were proved false in many cases, careers were lost over the scandal.
Ironically, after years of stating that "The Crucible" was his comment on the McCarthy hearings, in his new text, Miller claims that isn't entirely the case.
"I think it's a little late to be changing his story now," VanderPol said.
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ARTHUR MILLER CLASSIC
What: "The Crucible," by Summer Youth Theatre.
When: 7:30 p.m. today and Friday, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Lawrence Arts Center, 200 W. Ninth.
Tickets: Call 843-2787.