As I got into my car to leave, Molly Kazan came out of the house ... It was impossible to keep looking into her distraught eyes.Arthur Miller's play The Crucible debuted at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York City in January, 1953. It was not a roaring success.
She pointed out toward the road and told me that I no longer understood the country, that everybody who lived on that road approved of the Committee and what had been done.
After I had said that I ould not agree with their decision, she asked if I was staying at my house, a half hour away, and I said that I was on my way to Salem.
Her eyes widened in sudden apprehension. "You're not going to equate witches with this!"
- Arthur Miller, Timebends
"Arthur Miller is a problem playwright in both senses of the word." - Walter Kerr, Herald TribuneThe original production was directed by an idiot, Jed Harris, who believed that since this was a period piece the performers should perform "classically" which in his mind meant everyone had to face out at the audience, never looking at each other. If you know anything about the play, or have seen the movie adaptation, you can see how this would not serve the text.
"There is too much excitement and not enough emotion in The Crucible." - The New York Times
"The Crucible" was an act of desperation. Much of my desperation branched out, I suppose, from a typical Depression-era trauma - the blow struck on the mind by the rise of European Fascism and the brutal anti-Semitism it had brought to power. But by 1950, when I began to think of writing about the hunt for Reds in America, I was motivated in some great part by the paralysis that had set in among many liberals who, despite their discomfort with the inquisitors' violations of civil rights, were fearful, and with good reason, of being identified as covert Communists if they should protest too strongly.Put simply, Miller wrote this play in response to the House Committee on Un-American Activities ongoing efforts to publicly name and shame present and former members of the Communist Party, or anyone who even had affiliations with the Communist Party.
- Arthur Miller, The New Yorker, October 1996
What I have found most ironic (when Great Lakes Theater Festival produced The Crucible a few years ago, and I played Miller in the original drama Seeing Red) is it was not Miller's own persecution before HUAC that inspired the piece. That came a few years later. And his testimony at that time makes you wonder if he were channeling the spirit of John Proctor, or if Proctor's psyche is so much a product of Miller's own he couldn't help but be surprised and shocked (in the way that Proctor is) that grown men choose or refuse not to respond to reason.
The Crucible received its Cleveland premiere at the Cleveland Play House in 1954. More on that soon.
From Seeing Red by Daniel Hahn
adapted from Arthur Miller's Testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities
June 14, 1956
COMMITTEEDo you know or have you know a person by the name of Arnaud d’Usseau?
MILLERI have met him.
COMMITTEEHave you been in any Communist Party sessions with Arnaud d’Usseau?
MILLERI was present at meetings of Communist Party writers in 1947, about five or six meetings.
COMMITTEEWhere were those meetings held?
MILLERThey were held in someone’s apartment. I don’t know whose it was.
COMMITTEEWere those meetings closed?
MILLERI wouldn’t be able to tell you that.
COMMITTEEWas anyone there who, to your knowledge, was not a Communist?
MILLERI wouldn’t know that.
COMMITTEEHave you ever made application for membership in the Communist Party?
MILLERIn 1939, I believe it was, or in 1940, I went to attend a Marxist study course in the vacant store open to the street in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. I there signed some form or another.
COMMITTEEThat was an application for membership in the Communist Party, was it not?
MILLERI would not say that. I am here to tell you what I know.
COMMITTEETell us what you know.
MILLERThis is now sixteen years ago. That is half a lifetime away. I don’t recall, and I haven’t been able to recall and, if I could, I would tell you the exact nature of that application. I understood then that this was to be, as I have said, a study course. I was there for about three or four times, perhaps. It was of no interest to me and I didn’t return.
COMMITTEEWho invited you to attend?
MILLERI wouldn’t remember. It was a long time ago.
COMMITTEETell us, if you please, sir, about these meetings with the Communist Party writers which you said you attended in New York City.
MILLERI attended these meetings in order to locate my ideas in relation to Marxism, because I had been assailed for years by all kinds of interpretations of what Communism was, what Marxism was, and I went there to discover where I stood. And I listened and said very little, I think, the four or five times.
COMMITTEEWhat occasioned your presence? Who invited you there?
MILLERI couldn’t tell you. I don’t know.
COMMITTEECan you tell us who was there when you walked into the room?
MILLERMr. Chairman, I understand the philosophy behind this question and I want you to understand mine. When I say this, I want you to understand that I am not protecting the Communists or the Communist Party. I am trying to, and I will, protect my sense of myself. I could not use the name of another person and bring trouble on him. I ask you not to ask me that question. I will tell you anything about myself, as I have.
COMMITTEEThese were Communist Party meetings, were they not?
MILLERI will be perfectly frank with you in anything relating to my activities. I take the responsibility for everything I have ever done, but I cannot take responsibility for another human being.
COMMITTEEThis record shows, does it not, Mr. Miller, that these were Communist Party meetings? Is that correct?
MILLERI understood them to be Communist writers who were meeting regularly.
COMMITTEEI respectfully suggest that you answer the question as to who it was that you saw at these meetings. May I say that moral scruples, however laudable, do not constitute legal reason for refusing to answer the question. You are directed to answer the question, Mr. Miller.
MILLERAll I can say, sir, is that my conscience will not permit me to use the name of another person.
COMMITTEEYour are directed to answer the question as to whether or not Arnaud d’Usseau was chairman of the meeting of the Communist Party writers in New York City in 1947 at which you were in attendance.
MILLERI have given you my answer, sir.
COMMITTEEI ask you now, sir, whether or not Sue Warren was in attendance at this meeting of the Communist Party writers held in New York City in 1947?
MILLERI have given you my answer.
COMMITTEEDo you know Sue Warren? Did you decline to answer the question?
MILLERI tell you, sir, that I have given my answer.
COMMITTEEI am not satisfied with that. That is entirely too vague. Now what I want is a positive statement as to whether or not you will answer that question.
MILLERSir, I believe I have given you the answer that I must give.
COMMITTEELet us get that straight. As I understand, you decline to answer the question for the reason that you gave when you declined to answer the first question, or at least when you gave an answer that was not deemed acceptable, is that it?
MILLERThat is correct.
COMMITTEEAre you cognizant of the fact that your play The Crucible, with respect to witch hunts in 1692, was the case history of a series of articles in the Communist press drawing parallels to the investigations of Communists and other subversives by Congressional committees?
MILLERThe comparison is inevitable, sir.