BY HUGO TORRES
Next week, Ames Courtroom will become Ames Theater, as the Law School production of The Crucible opens to audiences. Transformed through the building of a stage and the placement of large stage lighting equipment, Ames Courtroom will play host to one of the better recognized legal dramas in American history: the 1692 Salem Witch trials as depicted in Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible.
The road to transforming Ames began in December, when Professor Bruce Hay, director and producer of the show, first came upon the idea of doing a Law School drama production. “I was reading a play in December and started to wonder how I myself would stage it if I were directing it,” says Hay, “the thought then occurred to me – why not actually try directing one?” A legal drama such as The Crucible was a perfect fit for Hay. “I figured that if I chose a play that raised legal and moral problems, then doing it at the Law School might contribute to the intellectual life here, prompting people to ponder legal issues while also getting an evening’s entertainment out of it. Sort of an aesthetic complement to the Dean’s Forums, if you like.”
Hay hopes the production will encourage self-reflection among the audience. “The basic theme is how a person develops the courage to stand up to an unjust legal order, instead of taking the easy way out and going along with everyone else,” says Hay. “In this instance, the hero’s sticking to his principles costs him everything, including his life – and he’s a young man with a loving wife and young children. He makes the sacrifice, though.”
“Would you or I do the same?” asks Hay. “This is what I want people to think about.”
HLS Students joined the production out of interest in the well known story, as well as a desire to expand their horizons while in law school.
“I love this play,” says Kristy Greenberg, 3L, who is also in Professor Hay’s “Law and Drama” course where The Crucible is read along with other legal dramas. “It seems to enhance being in the play to [be in the Law and Drama class and] read all these other plays.”
For Jenny Greengold, 3L, joining the production was due to an interest in trying something different while at HLS. “I wanted to do something outside law,” says Greengold.
Blaise Warren, 2L, notes that despite an intensive rehearsal schedule, he’s glad to be part of the production. “It’s been a good time. We’ve had fun with it,” says Warren, who notes that the play seems to have universal appeal. “People seem to know about it…the play raises a whole lot of issues in a way people may not have thought about.”
Warren noted that the historical settings of the play, both as to the Witch Trials within the story and as to its being written at the height of McCarthyism, provide a viewpoint into “what people were thinking about when these things were happening.”
The production also coincides with the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board, which prompted Professor Hay to make a decision to highlight themes in the play surrounding racial injustice.
“The play was originally written as an allegory of McCarthyist persecution of suspected communists, but I’ve decided to make it more of a parable of racial segregation,” notes Hay, adding that “the play is full of references to dividing the society into those who are “black” and “white” – terms that the playwright was using metaphorically to those who depart from the party line and those who conform to it.” This was used by Miller to show the divisiveness cause by the Red Scare in the 1950s.
“But what if you take the terms literally?” wonders Hay. “The play was written in 1953, the year that Brown v. Board of Education was argued, and just before the question of racial discrimination became the most explosive issue in American society.”
Though no changes have been made to the script, certain lines and images will be emphasized in staging the play. “I just try to use imagery to suggest that the hero refuses to live in a segregated society, and that this refusal amounts to a death sentence – as it did for so many civil rights workers,” says Hay. An absence of black actors, however, meant that Hay was unable to make this point as directly as he otherwise would have.
“The main drawback of this approach is that the hero in my production is white, not black – but that’s partly because no African American men auditioned for the play. I went with the group of actors who auditioned.”
Though Hay is in charge of the production, he credits students with giving the show its energy and strength. “I have been awestruck by the talent and dedication of the actors…same with the crew – people who volunteered to be stage manager or to run the technical things like light, sound, and ticketing. A lot of the best ideas for the production have come from the cast and crew, and most of the credit I deserve is for having the sense to listen to them.”
Hay jokes that being this open to student ideas has involved reversing traditional roles of student and professor here at HLS. “I might add that they’re not shy about telling me when my own ideas are stupid, which I think is technically against the rules at Harvard Law School, where the professor is always right. That is a rule, isn’t it? Anyway, I’ve gratefully accepted these acts of insubordination by the students, because they have vastly improved the production.”
Performances will be in Ames Courtroom and will run April 20, 21, 23, 24, at 7.30pm and April 24 at 2pm. Tickets are $5 for students, available in the Hark, at the Harvard Box Office, or at the door.
Hay believes the show will resonate with audiences. “I chose ‘The Crucible’ because it’s such an exciting play, and raises maybe the oldest motif in drama – the dilemma of an individual whose conscience demands one thing while law and society demand the opposite.”