Saturday, March 6, 2010

Salem: 1692 By Arizona Curriculum Theater [Theater]

I attended the opening production of Salem: 1692 by Arizona Curriculum Theater last night. Going into it, I knew from the title that the play would focus around witch trials. I had no idea it would be so intense.

On our way in, a greeter talked to us briefly and told us that the experience was based on the actual documents of a Bridget Bishop in Salem in 1692. He also added that the production was brilliant, well-researched, and genius. When someone tells me these things, I usually set myself on a mission to prove them wrong.

Once inside the theater we found that there was seating for around sixty people in the audience. The setting was extremely intimate. There were empty seats, but I had overheard that they had sold out. The people that didn't show really missed out.

There were minimal props and set. The stage was setup like a courtroom with a bench for witnesses, and two desks for two judges. On stage right there was a place for the accused to stand.

When the play started, I was immediately taken by the genuine quality it brought. I wasn't a member of an audience watching a play, I was a member of an audience in a courtroom. A 1692 courtroom. The lady in front of me was identified as Goody Osborn and the lady in my same row on the other side of the theatre was identifies as Goody Nurse. No, these were not members of the cast. They were members of the audience. I have never before experienced such realistic atmosphere brought into a play. I felt like a fly on the wall in the courtroom where Bridget Bishop was tried for witchcraft.

The accusers, Abigail Williams (Sable Williams), Mercy Lewis (Victoria Grace), and Ann Putnam (Shelby Wilson), with their "afflictions" brought on by Bridget Bishop, were supremely talented actresses. Several audience members jumped when they entered into their afflicted states because the quality of the convulsions and shakes were superb. The two young boys (think junior high aged) in front of us were taken aback when one of the girls cowered and tried to fight the imaginary spirits and were practically on their parents' laps before the episode was over.

The judges both did an excellent job. You could tell that Judge Samuel Sewall (Jason Barth), was nervous, and could visibly see him shake with the papers he held in his hand, but he delivered an adroit performance to be commended. Judge William Stoughton (James David Porter) was masterful and quite enjoyable to watch. I believed their pomp. I believed their authority. I believed their position. Sheriff George Corwin (Ron Bonanni) was good as well. His movement and cadence were a pleasure to observe.

The accused, Bridget Bishop (Gail Rae), was the only actor that pulled me out of the experience. The few times her east coast accent peeked through made me remember that I was in 2010 in Phoenix. She did a great job with her emotion and her movement though.

The musical elements were intriguing. The program states, "...William Stoughton is acting as a cantor and the congregation is echoing the psalms after him. Books were in short supply and very few in the congregation had them." The cantoring was interesting and felt so appropriate for the time period. It is also noted in the program that the book from which the songs were sung in the play was the BAY PSALM BOOK. It's the oldest book in existence printed in British North America, and there are eleven surviving first editions, one of which is owned by the Library of Congress.

I will not forget this experience. I traveled back in time last night. I saw first hand how they treated those who were accused. I experienced the hysteria first hand. I feel like I know what it was like. The experience was indeed brilliant, genius, and well-researched just as the greeter promised, and I could not prove him wrong even though that rebel in me wanted to.

Now you're probably wondering why I share this with you on a book blog, huh? This adaptation was made possible because of written records that were kept during and after the event. Without these books, this production could not have been. I thank those who wrote down these events and those who preserved them and thought that they were of value. I hope our society can learn from their society, but it is only possible to learn from them because of writers who recorded events. Don't underestimate the importance of your daily lives, your thoughts, your feelings, or your interactions with others. Someday, your writings may be the basis for a play, and if not, maybe they'll inspire your progeny and make the world a better place.

If you live in the Phoenix area, and want to attend this play, click here for showtimes and prices. It is very reasonable at $12 a ticket. Shows last just under one hour and show every Friday and Saturday in March at Soul Invictus, 1022 NW Grand Ave, Phoenix, AZ.

Special Birthday Party bonus: If you made it this far, and actually read this post, take a sec and email me and tell me which giveaway we've hosted so far that you want 5 extra entries for. Email me before noon Arizona time (2pm EST) on Monday to claim your five entries and keep your eyes peeled for more little birthday easter eggs like this one, designed to reward our everyday readers.


Anonymous said...

But Salem is on the east coast.

I Heart Monster said...

It is indeed, but this accent was definitely not from 1692. :o(