Witches! the Musical World Premiere
Original Program – Letter from the Dramaturg
Carl K. Turner
They’re On A Witch Hunt
The Salem Witch Trials and resulting executions of 1692 echo strongly down through the ages. They are considered seminal events from the early years of European settlement in the new world. But upon close inspection the Witch Trials become more than a harrowing, cautionary tale from a more primitive time. For although they took place 86 years before the Declaration of Independence, the social strata, personalities and conflicts that were firmly in place in this small village on the edge of the wilderness are American archetypes.
The main characters are certainly recognizable:
There are the few powerful landowners – the “one percenters” – represented by the Putnams; Rev. Parris, the Puritan establishment mouthpiece with a televangelist’s zeal for personal comfort; John Proctor, fiercely independent, champion of individual freedom, a Tea Partier born 300 years too soon; Sarah Good, pushed by circumstance to the margins of society, then loathed and shunned for her misfortune; Stoughton, newly-minted version of the Harvard elite; Hathorne, top gun prosecutor, embracing an exotic legal tool, in this instance the concept of spectral evidence, to secure the verdicts he needs; Dr. Griggs, medical professional, crossing ethical lines at will without question, for dubious personal reasons.
Then there are the girls, our disaffected youth. Their disparate personal stories show us lives of drudgery and quite desperation, one isolated by her family’s wealth, one with over-protective parents, others are maid servants with no resources or hope, and Abigail, who bears the scars of being witness to her parents brutal murder. They are mistrustful of adults who barely notice them and are constantly reminded that they have no control of their future. Their urge to belong and be counted, to get some excitement into their lives brings them together, eagerly swearing oaths of allegiance to a new family.
The catalyst for the girls’ ability to feel the excitement of new possibilities is Tituba, Rev. Parris’ slave, who is charged with raising his daughter, Betty. Tituba is a true cultural alien to this society, but her Caribbean island outlook of optimism wafts like a warm trade-wind across the icy Puritan landscape. She becomes the ideal mother-figure and as she relates to the girls the unconditional love she experienced as a child, one of the girls asks, wistfully: “Your mother would tell you that she loved you?” That speaks volumes, then and now.
To be fair, during this time period there was a widely held theological consensus that Satan would assert his power in the New World and that careful vigilance was essential. But as we know today, creating a mood of fear and helplessness in the citizenry can be easily exploited for other nefarious ends.
We have a phrase for that: They’re on a Witch Hunt!
Carl K. Turner
Dramaturg for Witches! the Musical World Premiere