Opera is often and appropriately referred to as The Splendid Art. See and hear a fine production of a Grand Opera and the reason for that distinction is self-evident. Having said that, I add that directing a play is a silent art; an art which I have had the privilege to practice for a lifetime. I call directing a silent art because a director must precisely ascertain the author’s intent, the essence of its characters, and the fundamental style of a play ─ all of which must be meticulously resolved before assembling a cast for the show.
I’ve presented The Crucible three times. The first time was at an Off-Broadway house in Greenwich Village, New York City. The play was performed on the ‘dark night’ of a play running there at the time. The ‘set’ was minimalist, of course, as it had been for the community theater production as well, where I preferred it to be minimalist. But it was fully costumed and the playbills were in the form of scrolls.
Although the actors had sent flyers to many theatrical agents, not one of them came to see the show. But the performance received a standing ovation, and I knew that if I could direct The Crucible well, I could direct any show. The second and third times I directed The Crucible were just as rewarding as the first time had been
For me, the best part of directing a show is its rehearsals. An example of why I enjoy them so much follows.
There is a scene in the second act where Reverend Parris interrogates a married couple ─ John and Elizabeth ─ about their Christian duties and fidelity. I exclusively reserved a full rehearsal for them alone because the subtext of the scene is exquisitely rich and subtexts require the most meticulous ensemble acting.
At the beginning of their next exclusive rehearsal, I asked the actors to play the scene without interruption. Almost immediately, I was shocked to see that my subtext input was gone. None the less, I allowed the entire scene to be played without interrupting them. Two of the actors were not flustered by the unexpected change made by the actor who played the Reverend brilliantly. But his change, rendered the scene as a whole, flat. I delicately told them that, including the reasons for its flatness. The ‘Reverend’ then said, “It’s my fault.” I then asked them to play the scene again. This time it was played exactly as I had directed it. When I thanked them for their ‘revised’ performance, the ‘Reverend’ brandished the broadest of their smiles.
When I directed The Crucible for the first, second, and third time, I was not aware that its author, Arthur Miller, had been disappointed by the premiere of his play, which was played in a stereotypical manner, a common affectation associated with period pieces.
All three of my productions allowed the script to speak for itself and focused entirely on its universality, undistracted by any emphasis on the play’s period. The costumes were those of pilgrims, which were not distracting, as are many period plays in modern dress. On a one-on-one television interview, Mr. Miller expressed his view that the play should be played bigger-than- life. I think he said, “like opera.” In any case, that’s as I directed The Crucible many years before that interview. Barring ‘overacting,’ a director should be able to have actors excite an audience without music.