Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My issue with MTC's The Crucible

Depending on who you ask, MTC’s production of The Crucible sits somewhere between a sensitive and faithful interpretation of Miller's masterpiece and an excruciating poo.
It has been accused of depoliticising Miller’s text and likened to a staged reading. There’s even been a review of a review of the show.

But none of these commentators has identified my particular issue with this production: the depiction of Abigail, the 17-year old girl who starts the whole witch-trial cauldron bubbling.

High School students have been chewing pens over whether Abigail is villain or victim for decades, so I find it devastatingly disheartening that at a time when awareness of the ongoing vilification of women online and in real life is reaching a new tipping point, a mainstage production with the capacity to expose upwards of 15,000 people to this classic text has chosen the path of least consideration and settled on Abigail as bad-girl.

Let me explain.

Abigail Williams, as written by Miller, is a girl living in puritanical Massachusetts with her uncle after watching her parents get bludgeoned to death in their bed. She gets a job working for a family as a maid but sleeps with the man of the house and loses her job when his wife finds out. Problem is, she’s fallen in love with this man and now he wants nothing to do with her. Cue hysterical finger-pointing and contagious chaos.

Now look, you can talk about feminine wiles and manipulation all you like but a married man in his thirties who has sex with an unmarried 17-year old in the British Colonies of 1692 has a pretty good idea of the kind of future he’s sentencing her to.

And while I’m not saying that an interpretation of Abigail as vengeful accuser and villain isn’t plausible, there is certainly room for a much more considered, compassionate and socially relevant direction. One in which Abigail’s choices are a product of the cultural prejudices and situation in which she finds herself. Where we can see the fear in this girl, the helplessness, the adolescent selfishness and yes, the desire for revenge, but also the terror.

Otherwise what is this but a highbrow exercise in slut-shaming hidden behind fancy sets and award-winning acting.