WASHINGTON, D.C. — Drawing on Arthur Miller’s iconic American play, “The Crucible”, playwright Kimberly Belflower returns to her Appalachian roots to reimagine this classic through the lens of teenagers trying to navigate the angsty world of Helen County High. Plenty of drama there. In the process, these classmates are revealed as superficial, funny, vulnerable, sometimes unkind, yet loyal, and questioning, always questioning. Belflower’s intent is to reveal how fragile and easily influenced these young minds are and how telling truth to power can have serious consequences. Her story sees parallels in the #MeToo movement and the struggle between powerful males vis à vis powerless females.
Welcome to “Teen World”. Warning: If you don’t know who Lizzo, Beyoncé, Mos Def, Lourdes and Taylor Swift are, you might want to do a little googling to know what drives teenagers today. It’s far from sappy lyrics of love and loss. Today’s music speaks of romance, but also of self-empowerment.
These high school girls want to embrace that sense of personal strength and form The Feminism Club, but they are told in no uncertain terms by school counselor Bailey Gallagher (Lida Maria Benson) that to get their club approved and avoid pushback from their provincial little town, they must include male classmates. One is Rae Lynn’s former boyfriend, Lee (Zachary Keller) who has cheated on her with her best friend Shelby (Juliana Sass), the other is Mason (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio). Rae Lynn (Jordan Slattery) is firm with Lee about not wanting to renew their relationship after he has breached her trust. When he manhandles her with a stolen kiss, she tells him it is sexual abuse. You go, girl!
Beth (Miranda Rizzolo) is the brainiac and teacher’s pet whose idea it is to start the club and they are super pumped when their Sex Ed teacher Carter Smith (Dave Register) agrees to be their sponsor. The girls find him dreamy and fantasize about what it would be like to have sex with him. They discuss the Purity Pledge, a concept involving a promise not to engage in sex before marriage. New girl Nell (Deirdre Staples) is the cool girl, watching dramas unfold among the clique and offering her not inconsiderable insight. “We teach girls to make themselves smaller,” she tells them quoting a Beyoncé lyric.
Amid all that insecurity Ivy’s father has been exposed as having an affair, embarrassing Ivy (Resa Mishina) and forcing her to retreat in shame. Ultimately, the girls bond over pop music and their stressful experiences with parents and boys. Pressure on these teens comes not only from with their need to be accepted among their peers, but from outside their group – from male adults who are equally as flawed yet in a position to take advantage of their weaknesses.
Belflower sees their struggles as the perfect storm – one in which an adult can prey on the most vulnerable and where adults can lie and those lies can destroy a child forever. Her reinvention of The Crucible shows us how readily the term “witch hunt” can be used by powerful men to discredit their female accusers and how we still see this in modern society.
Thoughtfully directed by Marti Lyons who gets terrific, thoughtful and energetic performances out of this very young, very brave cast. With Set Design by Luciana Stecconi; Costume Design by Moyenda Kulemeka; Lighting Design by Jesse Belsky; Sound Design and Composer Kathy Ruvana; Intimacy and Fight Choreographer Chelsea Pace; Dramaturg Adrian-Alice Hansel.
‘John Proctor is the Villain’ runs through June 5th at Studio Theatre in the Mead Theatre, 1501 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005. For tickets and information visit www.StudioTheatre.org or call the box office at 202 332-3300. Be sure to check out the website for Covid protocols.
This article has been updated. The original version stated incorrectly that Ivy’s father had an affair with the mayor. Rather, he had an affair.