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Re-examining The Crucible: A Review of Mask and Bauble’s ‘John Proctor is the Villain’

John Proctor is the Villain, directed by Molly Evanko of Georgetown’s Mask and Bauble, follows a group of students at Helen County High in Northeast Georgia as they struggle to come to terms with the #MeToo movement in 2019. The plot, stage design, and themes revolve around Mr. Smith’s English class, engrossing the audience in the world of the characters. The set is a recreation of a typical English classroom featuring posters of Midnight in Paris, Gone With the Wind, and The Great Gatsby, bringing the time-and-place of the story to life. In a plot that parallels Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which the high schoolers study in their English course, the students grapple with betrayal, identity, friendship, and feminism as they come of age.


Mr. Smith (Nate Findlay) loves The Crucible, a play that draws parallels between the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s and the Red Scare of the 1950s. He believes that John Proctor, a married man who has an affair with a young girl, Abigail, is one of the most noble figures of American literature because he refuses to implicate others. His students, however, aren’t buying it, and don’t believe that he’s the hero. Mr. Smith’s overly-simplistic view of The Crucible reflects the poor standard of English education in American public high schools, where complex stories are boiled down to become palatable.


Inspired by The Crucible–and wanting to beef up their college applications– the girls start a feminism club, receiving the approval of Ms. Gallagher (Sydney Cook) on the condition they also include the boys from their class. Although the girls initially bond over their feminist ideals, the group quickly starts to splinter as personal struggles emerge and create rifts within the group.


Photo Credit: Miranda Xiong

Raelynn (Shay Pratt) is trying to cope with her boyfriend of seven years, Lee (Timothy Cole-French) having a fling with her best friend, Shelby (Marre Gaffigan). As the daughter of a priest, Raelynn struggles to reconcile her religious values with her sexual identity. Unable to comprehend Lee’s betrayal and curious of her own identity, Raelynn decides to process her emotions through self-expression with different clothing and makeup. The acting performances and writing hammer home the emotion and pain of the fallout from these lifelong relationships. Raelynn and Lee have chemistry despite the betrayal, and the explosive fights between Raelynn and Shelby are very real.


Ivy (CC Mesa) becomes skeptical of the #MeToo movement upon hearing accusations that her father slept with both his assistant and with Shelby. She cannot accept that her father could be a predator, choosing instead to believe that her friend is lying. For Ivy, this anger manifests into a turning away from the group’s pro-feminist mantra. The classroom becomes a battleground between Ivy and Shelby, whose conflicting interpretations of The Crucible reflect their radically different experiences with the same person.


Nell (Tyller Mensa) is a newcomer to the high school. With an outsider’s perspective, she provides fresh insights into her new friends’ relationships, even if her advice is not always welcome. Nell’s intelligence and wit attract Mason (Rishu Nevatia), a floundering student who comes to realize there’s something more to feminism than just extra credit. Nell makes important observations that can go missed by the other characters. Mason adds indispensable touches of humor in serious, heavy moments.


Mr. Smith’s charm ensnares Beth (Lainey Lyle), a studious, organized girl who dreams of going to a great college—often sporting a Harvard sweatshirt. Frequently spending time alone with Mr. Smith, she is captivated by his understanding of both literature and modern music, particularly his synthesis of Green Light by Lorde and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Beth believes that they are friends, a pair of “old souls”. Even after it is revealed that Mr. Smith and Shelby have been in a relationship, Beth is unwilling to see him for what he really is: a predator.


Ms. Gallagher, too, has heard stories of Mr. Smith taking advantage of young girls. She seems to know four or five different girls who have had relationships with Mr. Smith, but she, too, is initially too blinded by his charm to believe in any wrongdoing. However, she becomes more and more sympathetic to Shelby, particularly when it's revealed that Mr. Smith will be returning to teach. This lack of justice for Shelby and countless other women Ms. Gallagher has known in the past is an unfortunate constant in real life as well as in the play. The script deftly ties the two together, creating a unique story while calling out all-too-common realities for survivors of abuse and manipulation by authority figures.


Despite the intense rifts that form over the course of the play, there is a beautiful culmination during the final scene. Having made up through working together on this group project, Raelynn and Shelby deliver a dialogue between Abigail and Mrs. Proctor, who never get a chance to speak to each other in The Crucible. Supported by Ms. Gallagher, Raelynn and Shelby perform an interpretative dance to Lorde’s Green Light. A cathartic moment that sweeps the entire classroom, the play is left on an uplifting note that perfectly captures the relentless spirit of Gen Z feminism.


Wrestling with the salient #MeToo themes in a coming-of-age context, John Proctor is the Villain is an important, remarkable production.


Rating: INDY

 

Alexandra Smithie is a sophomore in the College studying History.

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