Sometimes it's great to go back and revisit an old classic.
So I thought when I was digging through my bookcase and came across an ancient, beat-up copy of Arthur Miller's
. It's the beginning of a new session at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, and I needed to look for new scenes. Lo and behold, here it is. It seemed fated: I always, always wanted to have a crack at Abigail; and here's my chance to do so. It fell into my lap. Literally.
Why not? This is how things seem to go, in the acting world.
tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials, a decidedly tragic period in history when several little girls in Salem Village fell strangely ill; and as a result feuds over land boundaries and long-held grudges became full-out excuses to murder. Miller's play, however, should not be taken as historical gospel. He uses these killings as an analogy to the McCarthy hearings, and therefore his play is in a sense about something completely different: how brutal human beings can be to one another. At the heart of his story is an affair between John Proctor and Abigail Williams, which is both the reason for the murders and the crux of the story. Of course, we have no idea what has passed between them until a bit into Act I; but we learn little by little over the course of the plot how much it drives the story. Their relationship comes to light in a dramatic courtroom scene near the climax of the play; and its revelation is the catalyst for the drama that follows.
Miller tells this dramatic story with gorgeous, gorgeous writing and equally beautiful characters. John, Abigail, and John's wife Elizabeth in particular are beautifully painted, but all of the people in this play are given equal care and attention. What I loved in particular about this story was how Miller steps out of the play and gives us the history of some of the characters as they enter in Act I. For example, we are told that in John's presence, a fool felt his foolishness immediately; and that Giles Corey was very innocent and brave. Who knows exactly how historical these notes on characterization are; but if we take them into consideration strictly in the world of this play, they are little dramatic gems. They help actors shape the characters and the situations in which they find themselves, and they give what might have been a simple revenge story much more depth. In shows in which actors play characters who actually lived in one form or other, the way in which the playwright painted them is especially important.
Needless to say, this play provides wonderful scenes for actors. The characters are all meaty, exciting, and go after the things they want with an intensity that is wonderful fun to play. John in particular has some gorgeous moments, particularly towards the end; and Abigail is also really exciting. And even if there are no characters in this play that actors are interested in playing, it is still great to read. Miller creates this world with masterful brushstrokes; and the storyline is nothing if not exciting. I am so glad to have the chance to work on this play. Hopefully I'll be lucky enough to do the entire thing one day.