Everyday there seems to be new headlines reporting hateful actions directed at someone because of race or religion or sexual identity. This is not okay. And it is especially not okay, if those practicing such hate think that their hateful actions are supported by our leaders. I am not sure our leaders understand how important it is for them to condemn this kind of hate, and so I say, let's invite them to the theatre. Before you decide I am crazy, let me explain;
Stella Adler once said:
"The theatre was created to tell the truth about life and the social situation."
And the truth about the current social situation is that some people are doing some evil things and it is important that our leaders be very clear that such acts are not sanctioned or supported by them, and that these acts are not okay.
I saw Whitman Drama's production of The Crucible last week - twice actually.
My big brother was in it so technically, I was obligated to support him, but even if he had not been in it, I still would have gone to see the show for sure the first time and maybe the second time too, and here's why: The first time I saw it, I knew nothing about the play other than it was historical fiction based on the Salem witch trials in the 1692. I knew very little about the Salem witch trials, but as I watched the play, I was fascinated that neighbor could turn on neighbor based on the words of teenage girls alone, and that the then government, a mixture of clergy and judges, would order executions based on girls claiming to have seen certain townspeople "with the devil."
At one point in the play John Proctor exclaims:
"We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!"
That quote describes the part of the story I found so fascinating - how was it that no sane leader could see through the girls' pretending to be possessed? I had to keep reminding myself that this was not just a story for the stage but this really happened. Watching it the second time, I began to understand that the leaders in Salem empowered the girls to not only tell their lies but to believe their lies. Mary Warren, one of the girls who accused women in Salem of being witches, pointed to the support from those who governed:
"I told you the proof. It’s hard proof, hard as rock, the judges said."
"I am amazed you do not see what weighty work we do . . .
it's God's work we do… I am an official of the court . . ."
Having supported and acted on what these children said, Salem's leaders would not back down even when confronted with the fact that the girls' leader Abigail had stolen her uncle's money and run away from Salem. The leaders refused to correct the mess they allowed to happen because to do so would be admitting they might have been wrong. Judge Danforth explained:
"You misunderstand, sir; I cannot pardon these when twelve are already hanged for the same crime. It is not just.”
Of course, the irony of the statement is that the first twelve hangings were not just either, - but correcting the injustice would show Danforth had made a mistake.
The production's director, Christopher Gerken, wrote in the playbill that his inspiration for the production was a quote from Arthur Miller's introduction to the play:
"Long held hatred of neighbors could now be openly expressed and vengeance taken.”
Mr. Gerken commented that this was "a dangerous sentiment in 1692 and perhaps today as well." It is a dangerous sentiment, and this is why it might be time for our current leaders to spend an evening at the theatre. A glance at the headlines in our newspapers shows that many in our society are feeling as if it is okay to openly express hate. For example, there is the murder of an Indian technology worker in Kansas, vandalism in Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats against Jewish schools and community centers throughout our country. I don't think it can be disputed that there has been a rise in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents since the November Presidential election. Our leaders need to come out and say that this form of hatred is wrong and will not be tolerated and not send mixed messages suggesting that such incidents have been committed by political opponents trying to paint supporters of the current administration in a bad light. See Trump Questions Who Is Behind Anti-Semitic Threats And Vandalism.
On Tuesday, President Trump said:
"Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms,"
I guess this is better than his original silence in response to the shooting in Kansas, and the confused statements made about the Anti-Semitic acts, but it is not enough. First, the threats and shootings do not remind us "we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms." They show us the opposite - that there are those who curse the freedoms promised by our Constitution and show open hatred to people because of religion, skin color, or sexual identity. We are looking to our leaders to remind those who engage in such hatred that they are acting un-American and that such hatred and evil will not be allowed. Our leaders need to be unequivocal and strong in this message. There can be no hedging in statements condemning such acts just to try to keep from losing the votes of those who practice such hate at the next election. If our leaders cannot do that, then they will be guilty of giving the "keys to the kingdom" to the "little crazy children" and of allowing hatred and vengeance to write the law. And so, I invite them to quickly find a production of The Crucible to attend so that they might see firsthand how well that worked out for Reverend Parris and Judge Danforth.