Arthur Miller once wrote, “Nothing is as visionary and as blinding as moral indignation.” These words from one of the world’s great dramatists echo the real-life dilemmas between right and wrong that are pervasive throughout his canon of work. Starting tomorrow, the University’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance will return to Miller’s universal themes with the premiere of “The Crucible.”

The Crucible

Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m., Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. through April 10
Arthur Miller Theatre
From $10

Written as an allegory to the 1950s McCarthy era, “The Crucible” focuses on a community enveloped by mass hysteria and fear during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. But the upcoming production, while paying homage to McCarthyism’s original influence, veers in a different direction from traditional stereotypes.

“We’re going away from witchcraft and communism. It’s about the manipulation of power,” assistant director and MT&D junior Doron Bloomfield said.

According to Bloomfield, the timelessness of the play is applicable to today’s world, not only in a broad scope, but also in the smaller, intimate interactions that often go overlooked due to its significant stature in American dramatic history. Scenes like the break-up between Proctor and Abigail prove relatable to a college audience.

In keeping with this view, the cast and crew have contemporized this “Crucible” to present what director and MT&D assistant professor Jerry Schwiebert refers to as “classic now,” a distillation of the play to its essential parts. As opposed to a literal adherence to the text, the show’s look and feel are set in three distinct time zones: Puritan New England, the McCarthy era and the present day.

“The set is here and now, but it’s not Ann Arbor, 2011,” said MT&D senior Adam McCarthy, the show’s scenic and lighting designer. “It’s relevant, but there’s no specific context.”

McCarthy and MT&D senior Marguerite Woodward, the show’s costume designer, have worked to design a “Crucible” where the set and props aren’t there for aesthetic value, but rather serve a utilitarian function for the actors. To achieve this, clothing and lighting were essential in creating an open space for the actors to tell their story, as opposed to placing them in a true-to-life 1692 court case.

“The set itself is pretty bare,” McCarthy said. “But each prop adds meaning and theme. It was important to let the set be a canvas for adding props, light and actors.”

When Miller directed his own version of the play, he too believed in a simplistic structure. In his autobiography, “Timebends,” Miller states the influence on his own writing of the Greek structural concept, wherein the past and present intertwine — theater is where we witness this conflict play out on stage.

As a student at the University from 1935 to 1939, Miller studied journalism while honing his writing abilities. In 1936, he won the first of two Hopwood Awards for drama. Studying under the late associate professor Kenneth Rowe, a renowned University playwriting instructor, Miller developed his belief in the underlying dramatic structure inherent in all drama, from antiquity to the modern era. Yet it was only when he left Ann Arbor and encountered injustice firsthand that Miller formed the basis of his Tony Award-winning play.

Miller and other notable members of the New York-based Group Theater were called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Miller refused to “cooperate” and was sentenced to jail for contempt. He then traveled to Salem, Mass. to research the seventeenth-century Witch Trials for what would become a scathing attack on McCarthy’s own witch hunt of suspected communist sympathizers.

Today, University students continue to study and perform this material written over 50 years ago. More than history or politics, what motivates the cast and crew is a chance to discover new elements behind the text.

“When you start to strip away the layers of politics and religion, you find that as much as someone may appear to be driven by an idea, they’re actually driven by very human factors,” Adam McCarthy said of the play’s development in rehearsal. “At the end of the day, everyone is in fact a sympathetic character.”

Nowhere could be more appropriate than Ann Arbor for a staging of what Miller referred to as his “most theatrical piece.” As an active alumnus, Miller cared deeply for the institution that gave him his start, and lent his name to only one theater during his lifetime: The Arthur Miller Theatre in the Walgreen Drama Center on North Campus, where this production will take place.

Specifically, Miller took an active interest in the students of the University, even after gaining fame and recognition. In deciding which play to choose for the spring season, Schwiebert emphasized a desire to incorporate as many students into the production as possible. With a cast of 20, “The Crucible” has provided ample opportunities for student actors.

“This play offers the most parts, especially female parts, out of any of his other plays,” Schwiebert said.

Audiences can expect the story they know, but shouldn’t expect an overarching socio-political pretext. The production concerns itself with the fundamental nature of Miller’s play: the little moments and struggles that comprise a life. With political context stripped away, the final product should remind us of the power a great Miller drama can bring to the theater.

“I hope people come away saying, ‘Oh my god, Miller knows how to write a play,’ ” Woodward said.

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