a crucible

: a pot in which metals or other substances are heated to a very high temperature or melted

: a difficult test or challenge

: a place or situation that forces people to change or make difficult decisions

In case you’ve ever wondered, this is the definition of a “crucible,” which also serves as the title of Arthur Miller’s classic 1953 dramatization of the Salem Witch Trials.

During this season of haunted happenings, the Salem Theatre Company is appropriately and I hope profitably staging  Miller’s work about one of the darker periods of our community’s past.

At a recent community preview, I was impressed by the sensitivity of performances, especially across a 20-person-deep cast, and thoughtful staging.

Nevertheless, despite frequent references to familiar names and places, the period dress and inevitability of the narrative thrust, made it difficult for me to identify this crucible — this difficult test or challenge — as being about me rather than them.

Salemites today appear much different from our buttoned-up Puritan predecessors who feared West Indian culture and the unseen hand of god.

But do appearances deceive?

What if Tituba were not a black practitioner of exotic spiritualism, but a devout Muslim whose head scarf and prayer schedule separated her from the norms of our community.  Worse yet, what if she were an Appalachian snake handler?

What if tittering Abigail Williams instead tweeted her invectives, inspiring a wave of cyber bullying with real world consequences?

It’s true that witchcraft is now a major industry in Salem and that the practice of Christianity is not.  One might say we’ve learned our lesson.

Or, one might say, we’ve simply inverted the paradigm, choosing witches, running the Puritans out of town.

To hunt witches is taboo, but the cultural phenomenon of the witch hunt is by all accounts alive and well.

We’ve learned the obvious lesson of the Crucible, but what about the more radical challenge?  

Who do we fear? And why?

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