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.


Anonymous said...

I saw this last night with my 18 year old daughter - neither of us know the play although I am familiar with the story. We both thoroughly enjoyed the play and thought it a compelling representation of McCarthyism. I think the issue you raise with the depiction of Abigail is a bit of a furphy. Miller's real story is about the community and I think this also justifies Wenham's Proctor (who was criticised in one review for not being a strong character). I don't believe this play is about John Proctor or about Abigail. When Proctor does finally make a decision about his own fate, he finds that he cannot, as it is inextricably bound to the fate of the rest of the community. Perhaps because I have no previous experience with the play, I came with no expectations and found no gripes or disappointments. I have seen a lot of theatre in Melbourne and many MTC plays, and I just don't agree with some of the negative reviews I have read. Whether it is the stark stage setting (this is typical MTC) or the accents (come on - we don't expect authentic accents in Shakespeare - and who would know what the accents would have been over 300 years ago in Massachusetts?). It is not a Merchant Ivory movie for goodness sake! For me, theatre should be vivid, raw, unexpected and thought-provoking - and that is what I found in The Crucible.

Anonymous said...

Another take on the Abigale 'problem' - landing the blame squarely at Miller's feet rather than the actress lumped with the unfortunate task of playing her.

Matt Baker said...

"...we don't expect authentic accents in Shakespeare - and who would know what the accents would have been over 300 years ago in Massachusetts?"

Linguists. Linguists and actors who complete full character and play studies know what accents would been over 300 years ago in Massachusetts, and, depending on the style in which the play is presented, there are times when we should expect them.