by Sarah A. Peterson
As the leaves become a swirl of dappled gold and fiery red, and as the temperature (eventually) drops, Selma’s Raisin Cain Players welcome October with a tale of the Salem Witch Trials, the Selma Underground Production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
“I first encountered this play as a teenager, and even then, I remember being moved by the predicaments of its characters,” says director Juan L. Guzman, a professor of English and Chicano Literature at Fresno City College. “The drama has worked its way into my life in such a way that I’ve always known that someday, it would be a project for me to take to the stage. And I’m glad that, after so many years, that time has come.”
And thanks to the creation of Selma Underground Productions, The Crucible is about to come to life. “Selma Underground is an extension of the Raisin Cain Players,” says the Selma Arts Center’s Nicolette Andersen, “focusing on more raw and adult themes. It has only recently come into existence with last June’s production of An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein. And the group hopes to continue to bring a variety of literary art to life.”
Guzman believes the timelessness of The Crucible’s message is what makes it relevant today. “Although the play is set in the 1600s, part of its commentary is the fact that its themes aren’t limited to that era,” he says. “Arthur Miller wanted to say something about what can happen when an authority forces its constituents to make impossible choices, to support an ideology they may not necessarily agree with.”
Working with the actors has been a particularly gratifying experience. “It has been really exciting to watch the actors grow into their characters,” Guzman says. “I’ve watched all of them struggle with intentions and motivations, but it’s been especially rewarding to see them work through those doubts, and find the places from which their characters’ actions are born. Every rehearsal has carried a bit of magic for us in this way.”
And as for the set and the costumes, this production of The Crucible is not confining itself to the trappings of 17th-century life. “We are working with the costume designers to create a look that isn’t concerned as much with the time period as with an aesthetic,” says Guzman. “Like some of the themes in the play, the costumes will encompass elements that recall nature through colors, textures, and fabrics.
“As for the set, we are building onto the current stage, adding a thrust in order to appropriate a certain sense of intimacy with our audience.”
What draws Guzman to The Crucible most is its complexity and its truth. “Miller’s use of language, both direct and metaphoric, is powerful, pure, and raw,” he says. “So much is exposed of these characters, their personal and private lives, moments of corruption and redemption their sins and lies. Yet Miller is able to handle these issues delicately and with a noble reverence for his characters. There’s something about that blend, that fine and terrifying line between tenderness and violence, that speaks to me.”
And so with this latest production, the future of Selma Underground Productions is looking as bright as the autumn leaves. “We created Selma Underground to give us the freedom to explore different types of scripts,” Guzman says, “scripts that, like The Crucible, present themes and tropes that many would prefer to keep ‘underground.’
“It’s our goal to uproot them, to reveal them, to let them cultivate in our collective consciousness. That’s important for us as people, and it’s important for the sake of theater.”
The Crucible will be presented at the Selma Arts Center, 1935 High St, Selma, CA 93662, October 16-18 and 23-25. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door and can be purchased by contacting the box office at (559) 891-2238 or online at tickettomato.com.
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