THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller, narrated by Stacy Keach, Richard Dreyfuss, Ed Begley Jr., Hector Elizondo, and others, produced by LA Theater Works and Audible.

Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder), Goody Proctor (Joan Allen), and John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis stand before their judges in the 1996 movie version.

This is one of those famous works I had never experienced until now when I came across the audio version of this play. Of course, I knew what it was about. Of course, I knew it was about the infamous Salem Witch trials which took place in the Puritan Theocracy of Massachusetts in 1692. Of course, I knew it was going to be hard to listen to.

But I hadn’t reckoned on how POWERFUL this work is. How CHILLING the whispers and giggles of the young girls. How PITILESS the judgment rendered. (At one point, one of the judges remarks that since they’d already hanged twelve people, it wouldn’t be fair if they didn’t hang the remaining seven prisoners.)

Arthur Miller’s 1953 play, on which the movie is based.

But what really struck me was how the play opened. We hear whispers and giggles. We hear the antagonist Abigail Williams tell her uncle that she and the other girls were “just dancing” in the forest. Then one of the men thinks he saw a naked girl among the group. Then there is blood. Then there are unconscious girls.

The questions come thick and fast and you can see the middle-aged male leaders of the group FEEDING the story to their distraught listeners (mostly teenage girls.) Did they see anything else? Were there birds? Animals? Creatures? Spirits? The Devil himself?

In five or ten minutes flat the whole community of Salem is in a hysterical uproar.

This was a bold choice on the part of Arthur Miller, NOT to start in the standard way of a slow wind-up in tension, but to begin fast, so fast that it is hard to catch your breath.

The only person honest enough to see this as the fraud it is, the protagonist John Proctor, is executed for FAILING to see the devil with any of the seven remaining prisoners. John wants to protect the reputation of his friends. But he is too late. Because by this time, near the end of the play, the power players of Salem do NOT want to be RIDICULED for listening to the fantasies of TEENAGE GIRLS, and so they go through with the executions of INNOCENT people to protect THEIR reputations.

I HATED this play, but in a good way. If you have the stomach for it, you should certainly listen to it. Five stars.

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