Post Date: March 18, 2004
On April 20, Harvard Law School will kick off five productions of The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s provocative 1953 play about the Salem witch trials. Professor Bruce Hay will direct a cast of Harvard students in a version of the play that will incorporate a scene not often used in previous productions.
“The novelty of this production is to treat the play as a parable of racial segregation, in contrast to conventional view of the play as a commentary on the McCarthy period,” said Hay. “It is a fitting commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.” Hay notes that the idea only occurred to him after the cast had been chosen and rehearsals had begun. “My main regret is that the cast itself is not more racially diverse,” he says. “Even so, I think we can effectively bring out the theme by letting the play speak for itself.”
In one scene in the play, included by Miller in the original script of The Crucible but later relegated to an “appendix” and rarely performed, the instigator of the trials vows to make the world “white once more.” Hay believes this language, along with many passages in the remainder of the script that equate “white” with good and “black” with evil, support the application of The Crucible to the theme of racial segregation.
Hay points out that this theme is more relevant to today’s students, many of whom are too young to relate to the strife of the McCarthy period. “When Miller wrote about society’s impulse to separate the world into black and white, he was speaking metaphorically about the desire to impose ideological conformity and to suppress freedom of thought,” says Hay. “But there’s an irony to his choice of metaphors, because just as he was writing the play the injustice of racial segregation—of a society literally, not figuratively, separated into black and white—was about to become the most contentious issue in the country.” Moreover, as Hay observes, “the trouble in the play all starts when a black character, the slave Tituba, steps out of bounds. The trials resemble interracial rape cases such the Scottsboro boys’ trial, where the accusers were believed, regardless of the evidence. And the hangings call to mind the lynchings that were once so tragically common in this country.”
The production is the first in a series of on-campus plays that Hay is planning to produce in the coming years. Each play will feature the acting of current Harvard students—largely from the law school, but also from the college—and relate, in some way, to the law or legal issues.
Hay hopes that the plays, which are open to the public, will “contribute to the intellectual life of the law school and the surrounding community.” This year’s production has been timed to coincide with the school’s annual spring reunion, which will bring approximately 500 alumni and guests back to Cambridge.
To support the upcoming productions, the law school will make significant lighting improvements to the Ames Courtroom in Austin Hall. The Ames Courtroom is typically the site of the school’s moot court competitions, as well as other court proceedings. But, in Hay’s view, it is also a beautiful and evocative venue for dramatic productions.
A civil procedure and litigation expert, Hay has been a member of the Harvard Law faculty since 1992 when he became an assistant professor of law. He received tenure in 1998. The Crucible is believed to be the first faculty-led dramatic production at HLS.
Tickets are available starting March 27 and can be purchased at the Harvard Box Office by calling 617-496-2222 or by visiting online at www.fas.harvard.edu/~tickets.