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Judgement day in 'The Crucible'

MANILA, Philippines - How would you feel if millions of people thought ill of you, spoke ill of you and didn’t even know you and your side of the story? Names are stigmatized in a flash because passing judgment is a natural, initial reaction. Jesus Christ was judged 2,000 years ago, and the judgment that befell Him translated to death, which goes to prove that judgment is literally deadly.

On Feb. 27 and March 6, Assumption College San Lorenzo’s METTA (Marie Eugenie Theater of the Assumption) will stage a play that will allow the audience to judge those who pass judgment. It will stage Arthur Miller’s 1953 Tony award-winning The Crucible. In 1692, the time of Crucible, Puritan women had few outlets to express fear.

Countless young girls were orphaned and witnessed the death of their families from violent confrontations with Native Americans. As an act of survival, a form of control to escape the surrounding violence was shaped through dark cults such as Voodoo. These women suffering suppression of emotion found release by fantasizing that supernatural powers controlled, protected and haunted them.

Europe in the 1500s and 1600s had witch hunts used to eliminate thousands of women who did not follow society’s social and gender expectation. In 1692, there was no formal government or justice system in Salem, Massachusetts because the Puritans broke ties with England. Puritans, having their own moral and civil code, had citizens tested for their fidelity to both the Puritan church and the state. That blind rigidness to dogma was ultimately a downfall to this small community and still reverberates in today’s times.

“It’s in English and we’re not adapting it to Filipino. It’s certainly resonant to the things that are happening now, (such as) Fundamentalism. The play occurs in the small community of Salem where religion is overpowering and strict with its tenets. The core of this play is a young girl who falls in love with a married man and because she was eventually resisted by this man she comes up with a (malicious) idea. By this time, there was this phenomenon of witch hunting. Anybody who’s being accused of being a witch ends up getting hanged. She’s so passionate about this man, John Proctor. She becomes obsessed. In her head, all she needs to do is to get rid of the wife,” says guest director of The Crucible Josefina “Jose” Estrella.

“One of the things Elizabeth Proctor does is she tries to save her husband, John Proctor, from hanging. (It’s similar to) Jason Ivler and his mother (Marlene Aguilar). That’s just the dilemma of a mother, how can a mother turn her son in? I think that that is relevant,” explains METTA artistic director Ana Valdes-Lim.

Jose interrupts saying, “In a way I think it is harassment. Because it’s a teen and a married man. If you look at it, it’s happening. If some young child decides, because she’s so obsessed with this guy, just decides to pinpoint and label you (that) ‘she’s a whore...’ (what happens is that) a generic, non-emotional name starts to have an implication. (Then when) you throw it at somebody, you’re stigmatized!”

“When there’s a rumor, and you want to believe the rumor, you don’t wait for proof. You believe right away and you go on. How many of us are guilty of that?” Ana continues. Obviously, the play itself is an attack on the Catholic religion. So why set it in a predominantly Roman Catholic country and especially within a devout Catholic school? “It’s important for students to learn about the history of the Catholic religion and the trials it encountered through time. When you say Catholic, it’s not as spotless. It’s not just about saints and goodness. It’s not about only good deeds, it’s also political. It’s a good lesson to learn about what happened before, the weaknesses of institution, of organized religion and to project it now into what we’re seeing,” explains Jose. “We’re adult. We need to continue growing if we expect them (the Assumption community) to grow. All of us mature people need to find intelligent challenging stuff. The musical Broadway stuff, that’s basic. But after that, we need to get over just getting on-stage and just getting the applause. I love to do work that poses dilemmas. I don’t want it to be just clear-cut. I want to do material that actually makes you think. Of course we’re women, we’re a women’s college. The one that comes clearly to us are the women’s issues. We want part of our education to be stuff that make people think and poses a dilemma that is not black and white. The world is so gray. And the student has to think because when you get out, life is full of dilemmas,” Ana elaborates.

“We should be able to look inside ourselves and say we’ve been weak before and this is how weak we’ve been, which can be a very positive and enlightening thing,” says Jose. Espousing the values of tolerance, respect for the others and rights of a human being through the play, Ana points out, “We don’t do art for art’s sake. We do it for education. It’s art for education. We’re aligned with our founder, St. Marie Eugenie who was canonized in 2007. She’s all for transformation, the formation of the individual.”

With an exciting new theater company on the rise, METTA perfectly complements Assumption’s new college course, Theater Arts and Media Education. In due time, more original works will be staged as well. Ana wishes with her thrust pervading each play, “That when you experience art, you change. You’re transformed into something better, something more whole. Something more yourself.” With that said, transformation begins with just two hours in one play.

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