When Frank Gallagher signed on to direct Theatre Tulsa and Clark Theater's production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, he faced two emotions: elation and terror.
He'd wanted to direct the play since 2001, when he signed on with city-owned Heller and Clark Theaters (which, due to budget cuts, will soon be consolidated into a single location at Henthorne Park, 4825 S. Quaker Ave.), but the play is one of the most commonly performed in American theatre repertoire.
"Is there any way to make this exciting?" he asked himself.
By getting to the heart of the show and delving into the history behind the story, Gallagher has put together what he calls an "impressive, powerful" play.
"The Crucible depicts one of the most bizarre episodes in American history," he said. "It tells how a deadly brew of religious hysteria, sexual paranoia, jealousy and superstition completely tore a town apart.
"Two dozen dead, hundreds of lives ruined, and all because some teenage girls went out to dance in the woods. They just wanted to have a little fun. It's almost unbelievable how it turned out like it did."
Coming off of the success of last year's Up the Down Staircase, which paired Clark Theater's youth actors with Theatre Tulsa's adults -- and won them a George Kaiser-funded Tulsa Award for Theatre Excellence worth $10,000 -- this (mostly) Theatre Tulsa production will feature an ensemble of teenage girls playing those who accused their friends and neighbors of being witches.
In some productions, the ensemble is played by girls in their early to mid-20s, but by using girls ages 13 to 16, which is historically accurate, the severity of the situation is further illuminated, Gallagher said.
In addition, he dug through the court records from the Salem witch trials to understand the degree of hysteria that took place in the courtrooms. The hysteria portrayed in his version of the play will be more historically accurate than that of some other versions, which tend to downplay the frenzy.
"We're going to show what really happened, how these girls drove a whole town into hysterics," Gallagher said.
In addition to telling the incident's history, Gallagher intends to portray how The Crucible's themes relate to current culture and thinking.
"When things go wrong, we tend to look for someone else to blame," he said. "The enemy. In the case of Salem in 1692, the enemy was the witch. If you see the enemy, you want to point him out and get rid of him.
"Pretty soon, though, the finger starts pointing in all different directions, and who knows when it will point at us?"
Gallagher said the tendency to label anything unknown or not understood as "evil" is a terrifying practice. And all too common.
"I see both sides doing it," he said. "The other side is not just wrong, it's evil. And you can't dialogue with evil; you just want to destroy it.
That's what happened here."
But there is another choice, Gallagher pointed out. One can choose to stand up, to have courage and to look a lie in the face and call it a lie. That's what John Proctor did, and that's the real theme of The Crucible, Gallagher said.
"The play speaks out against using fear to manipulate people," he said. "The main character, John Proctor, has to make a decision whether or not to stand up against what he knows to be a lie.
"Eventually, we all choose between hate and fear or honesty and courage."
The Crucible plays Nov. 13-14 at 8pm and Nov. 15 at 2pm in the Liddy Doenges Theatre of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. Second St. The show continues Nov. 19-21 at 8pm. Tickets are $15 and available at www.tulsapac.com or 596-7111.
Also On Stage
Oral Roberts University's Theatre Department presents Life x 3, directed by Chris Martin, in the Tulsa PAC's Charles E. Norman Theatre Nov. 12-14 at 8pm and Nov. 15 at 2pm.
The play, by Yasmina Reza, replays the same situation three times, with each retelling featuring subtle variations in emphasis, character and tone. The implications are less than subtle. Tickets to the show are $15 and available at the PAC's Web site.
At the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St., The Spontaniacs perform Saturday, Nov. 14 at 8pm. This talented ensemble of seasoned actors will keep you giggling with their zany and imaginative improv. Tickets are $5.
On Sunday, Nov. 15, Justin McKean performs his one-man show Born Again Yesterday, which draws from his upbringing as a fundamentalist Christian.
"The point of the play is to humanize, not demonize," he said.
It continues Nov. 22. Tickets are $10 at www.nightingaletheater.com or 633-8666.
Color Connection Gallery, 2050 Utica Square, hosts a "Farewell Fling" on Nov. 12 at 5pm. After 20 years of business, the gallery will officially close on Dec. 12.
Gallery artists include Anke Dodson, Margaret Enright, Joey Frisillo, Jeannie Graham, Linda McIntyre, Barbara O'Neil, Carla Perry, Robert Reed, Diane Salamon, Joanna Duck Tuers and Shirley Ward.
Other artists who have exhibited work at the gallery include Dian Church, Louise Grayson, Haroldine Howell, Helen Howerton and more.
Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, from 10am to 5:30pm. The closing reception is free and open to the public.
In anticipation of its Nov. 21 "America" concert, Tulsa Symphony Orchestra presents "Great Music, Great Spaces, Great Images," which combines an exhibit of photographs of art deco architecture with music from the era performed in some of Tulsa's art deco buildings.
Nov. 12 marks the opening reception for the exhibit, in the Tulsa PAC's Gallery, on the Chapman Music Hall side of the venue. The exhibit features art deco photography by David Halpern, Ralph Cole and curator Teresa Valero. The reception begins at 5pm and features a performance by TSO's Woodwind Trio. The event is free and open to the public.
On Sunday, Nov. 15, the Tulsa Symphony Chamber Players will perform Jacque Ibert's Divertissement, Darius Milhaud's Creation of the World and Ragtime selections, beginning at 2pm. Preceding the concert will be comments from an art deco expert on the significance of the architecture.
Tickets to the concert are $20 each at www.tulsasymphony.org or 584-3645.
The Signature Symphony at Tulsa Community College presents The Lettermen on Saturday, Nov. 14, a fundraiser for the symphony's Higher Scale education outreach program, which provides students at Tulsa Public Schools with free string instruction.
Members of the Signature Symphony Quartet teach at TPS schools 20 hours per week, offering violin, viola and cello instruction, impacting an estimated 650 students per week. The program was developed to re-establish string instruction in schools.
Preceding the 8pm concert is a VIP reception, featuring food, entertainment, a silent auction and a special appearance by The Lettermen.
Tickets to the reception are $125, and tickets to the concert only range between $25 and $55. The concert will be performed at the VanTrease Performing Arts Center for Education, at TCC's Southeast Campus at 81st Street and Highway 169. More information is available at www.signaturesymphony.org.
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