A Timely and Timeless Production on the Asolo Stage

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY DEC 28, 2018

In 1953, Arthur Miller stunned audiences and again cemented his reputation as one of the great American playwrights with The Crucible, a chilling drama set during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 but smacking of contemporary relevance at the height of McCarthyism. Now, Asolo Repertory Theatre brings the Tony Award-winning masterpiece to the Sarasota stage, under the direction of Asolo’s own artistic producing director, Michael Donald Edwards. And according to Edwards, it’s just as relevant as ever. “We’re not producing a classic,” he says. “We’re producing a hot, new play.”

Such is the power of the play and the legacy of such a “superb craftsman” as Miller, says Edwards, that no matter if its staged during the Red Scare of the 1950s, against the backdrop of the Stonewall Rebellion of the 1960s or even on the sandy shores of Sarasota in the year 2019, a certain relevance resonates regardless. “Whenever it’s performed,” he says, “it always seems contemporary.” And Edwards’ challenge, as director of something so iconic as The Crucible, will be to capture that and present it to the audience “filled with the heat and intention with which Arthur Miller wrote it.”

Part of this comes from what Edwards calls a “contemporary theatrical vocabulary”—a style and sensibility that will organically give this modern production its own personality—but also through careful identification of what lies at the core of The Crucible’s universality. For Edwards, the answer is simple: charity. It’s charity, he says, that allows empathy and encourages acceptance, “especially when you don’t get anything back, or it’s difficult,” he says. “Society, community, is built on the idea of charity, and when it’s broken it can lead to terrifying situations,” Edwards continues. “We need to be reminded at all times, but it feels especially potent right now.”

And so in accepting the challenge inherent in shepherding something as celebrated as The Crucible to the stage, Edwards issues his own challenge to the audience that comes to see it—“To be one of the people who helps create a world of charity rather than destroy it.”

The Crucible opens January 11 at Asolo Repertory Theatre.

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