Adaptation: The Crucible

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is currently in previews on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theater and opens March 31 – next Thursday! I was lucky enough to snag discounted tickets last week and eagerly met a friend there Saturday night.

If you haven’t read this play before, here’s a quick summary: it’s 1692 Salem, and you know what that means – the Salem Witch Trials. A group of teen girls led by Abigail Williams claim to have been enchanted by Tituba, Abigail’s uncle’s slave from Barbados. Quickly the girls gain power in the town as they claim to be able to see spirits and witchcraft. They begin naming witches and things quickly spiral out of control. Written in 1953, this is often seen as an allegory warning against McCarthyism.

Did you read the play or watch it first? I haven’t read The Crucible since high school American literature class about a decade ago, but I remembered the plot and a few of the most pivotal scenes.

How were the play and Broadway adaptation the same? While I am always hesitant to see movie or play adaptations of a favorite book, I think a play is a little different, because although the costumes, casting, & set design are open to interpretation, the script never changes. Your favorite lines will (usually) never be cut, and your favorite characters will never unexpectedly die.

How were the play and Broadway adaptation different?  This Broadway adaptation completely blew me away. There’s a star studded and phenomenal cast: Saoirse Ronan as Abigail Williams, Ben Whishaw as John Proctor, and Tavi Gevinson as Mary Warren. The stage was pretty sparse, and it’s set up like an old fashioned class room with a big chalkboard along the back of the stage. There are moments of pure magic – a little Betty Parris flying in the house, Mary Warren writing “I cannot, I cannot” across the entire chalkboard – that are both open for interpretation and add a bit of whimsy to the play. The other thing that I found completely refreshing was the colorblind casting of the play. Diversity is such an important and sensitive topic these days, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a pretty diverse cast. I expected an all-white cast but for Tituba, the Barbadian slave (like the otherwise great 1996 movie adaptation). Instead, there was an African American judge, neighbor, wife, etc.

I also wanted to tell you that the orchestra was composed by Philip Glass, and it is absolutely haunting and the perfect backdrop for such a dark play. If this soundtrack becomes available online somewhere soon, I will definitely be listening to it on repeat while I am working.

Parting Thoughts:  If you’re lucky enough to live in New York City or if you’ll be visiting in the near future, I would highly recommend this play. I have loaded the play onto my Kindle and plan on revisiting it soon.

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Additional Reading:

 

Other Posts in the Adaptation Series:

A Reading – Devendra Banhart – 6/25/2015

I Left My Noodle on Ramen Street
This post is a little late, but it’s better late than never, I suppose. Devendra Banhart released an art book recently called “I Left My Noodle on Ramen Street.” He stopped by The Strand on 6/25/15 to chat about art, music, and his new book in a conversation with his friend Adam Green, of The Moldy Peaches fame. The book is a lovely combination of art, essays, photography, and doodles.

rejoicing in the hands

Devendra said that he wanted the book to be purely art, but the publisher wanted a more intimate and personal book. The result is that the book seems almost like an art-journal. As you may know, Devendra draws and designs all of his own album covers. The book is filled with a lot of tiny, meticulous drawings that we have all grown to love and recognize. He said that this book is the kind of music that he would like to create, and flipping through the book, it’s fascinating to see into how Devendra’s mind works and how intricately connected music and art are to him.

Sphinx Devendra talked about his attempts to get an art show in a gallery and how he was rejected by all the art galleries. The frustration of this led to a series of drawings that are referred to as Sphinxes. These are permutations of different things filling up an empty space, his art-gallery surrogate. It is little stories and details like this that really help you understand what you’re looking at. Hearing him speak added another dimension of understanding to his art, music, and this book. It was really lovely and magical to be able to attend the reading.

self-portrait banhart

I would really only recommend this book to Devendra-devotees; if you are a fan of his music and music videos, you are going to love this book. There is so much to look at and to learn! If you think Devendra is a weird and radical hippie, then you will probably find this book a waste of money and time. I’ve put together a little playlist for you to listen to while flipping through the book, doodling on your own, or just to lay on the rug and listen to with your eyes closed. Enjoy!

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Additional Resources:

A Reading: Richard Siken – 4/23/2015

The Fulcrum

The Fulcrum, Richard Siken

Richard Siken read from his newest collection of poems, War of the Foxes, on Thursday, April 23, at NYU, and I was lucky enough to attend. The Creative Writer’s House is this beautiful old house bordering the West Village on 10th Street and 6th Avenue, and it has a very long and skinny corridor of rooms on the first floor. I arrived 15 minutes early, and the first floor was completely packed. People were sitting on the floor, on the stairs, and crammed into doorways. I made my way to the very back and ended up sitting on the fold-out table meant for the reception afterwards.

Siken said that if a book is a landscape, then a reading is a path through the landscape. War of the Foxes has many paths winding through the landscape of his poems, what Siken categorized into war poems, angry poems, and making poems. He made a few jokes about dirty poems and why he didn’t write any this time, before reading his poems on making. My only wish is that he read more than three poems. He read, in the following order:

  1. The Language of the Birds
  2. Three Proofs
  3. Landscape with a Blur of Conquerors

I’ve provided links where the poems are available online, but I would urge you to support poetry and the arts and to buy his book!

Siken told us that one of the last things he wrote in Crush was the following line from “Unfinished Duet”:

His hands keep turning into
birds, and his hands keep flying away
from him. Eventually the birds must land.

“The Language of the Birds” is a kind of continuation and landing place for Crush, opening with a certain kind of quiet grace:

A man saw a bird and found him beautiful. The bird had a song inside him, and feathers.

And Flew And Flew, Richard Siken

I was surprised at how much Richard Siken is like his poems – a combination of vulnerability, intelligence, and power. He answered questions about his craft confidently, was able to quote Gertrude Stein off the top of his head, and yet choked up a little while reading a poem out loud for the first time at a reading. He mentioned that he created some really beautiful landmarks in his landscape of a book, but couldn’t find a workable way to fit them into the book. I am desperately curious to know what these landmarks are, and I may spend one of these weekends with a paintbrush and canvas and start creating my vision of his landscapes, and maybe a few of my own. It’s always a treat to hear a favorite poet or author read. I walked up to him after the reading, and not only did he sign my books, but he gave me a list of poetry recommendations. I’ve listed them below, in case you’re interested and inspired as well:

  • Jack Gilbert
  • Claudia Rankine
  • Anne Carson
  • Jorie Graham
  • Larry Levis

Claudia Rankine and Larry Levis were new names to me, while I’m relatively familiar with the work of the other poets’. It was so nice to see that I shared some favorite poets with Siken! I’ll definitely be looking for these books the next time I’m at the Strand. Have you read any of these before? What are some of the most memorable readings you’ve attended?

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Additional Reading: