Pitt Stages offers a new take on a classic play in their latest production, John Proctor Is The Villain. Written by Kimberly Belflower, this female-led show tackles issues and struggles that face our country today. While at times preachy, the play is an important time capsule that represents the voice of a generation.
John Proctor Is The Villain centers around a group of students at a high school who are learning about Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in their English class. As the class begins discussing the play, the students realize its relevance to issues facing their school and community.
Set during the height of the Me Too era, a group of female students decided to organize a feminist club to educate themselves and their classmates about current world events affecting women. When rumors of grooming and sexual assault arise about their teacher and one of their fathers, the girls’ ideals and beliefs are called into question, and they are forced to decide whether to stand up and speak out or continue to ignore it and live in their own bubble.
The production is staged inside the Stephen Foster Memorial at the Charity Randall Theatre. The space is beautiful, with its gothic architecture and spacious auditorium. The set was simple but heavily detailed. It resembles a high school classroom with motivational posters, funny wall art, and educational tools. The play only takes place in one classroom, so it works for this production. The space was well used, and I felt the blocking was engaging, which helped with the energy and pacing of the show.
John Proctor Is The Villain has an all-star cast who help carry the message and themes in the show brilliantly. It’s hard to believe they’re college-aged students, for they genuinely deliver professional performances. Jamilah Robinson is endearing as the sweet, smart, and naïve Beth. Ava Hartman delivers heartfelt dramatic moments as Ivy. Mia Gaines plays the vivacious and charming newcomer Nell. She’s quick, funny, and continually makes smart choices with her character. Katie Gibson and Gabriella Castrodad deliver beautiful performances as Shelby and Raelynn. Their scenes together provide the best moments in the show and elicit the most raw, genuine human emotions. Witnessing the trajectory of their characters was a wonderful journey. The relationship between the entire friend group was a special bond in the play, and it was fascinating to see the direction of the friendships as the show progressed. You could believe their connection to one another, which made it easy to relate to their characters.
This play deals with a handful of social issues our country faces today. It sometimes comes off a bit preachy and corny, but I don’t think it impedes the show’s overall message. There were times when I wondered if this show would age well because it is chock-full of pop culture references and slang that might not translate well in the upcoming decades. However, this show is a time capsule of a certain point in American history, and perhaps it’s essential to have all of the modern-day references because it helps to bring context and insight to the play itself. The show also heavily references The Crucible, a play written in 1953, set in 1692, and it’s still seen as prevalent. The Crucible is an allegory for McCarthyism, which is specific to that time period, yet we can still find its relevance today. So, while some elements of this show come off as a bit cringy, I think it’s important because it highlights the voices of the people from that time.
As a woman, this play hits close to home. It reminded me heavily of the “girlhood” trend on social media. As women, there are certain experiences, whether good, bad, fun, or ugly, that we all share. It’s a special phenomenon that can’t honestly be explained but one that can be instantly recognized. I love how the show, “in the words of Director Kelly Trumbull, “highlights the importance of reevaluating our judgments in the context of evolving societal values. It shows how complicated and multi-faceted these issues are and how it never or will ever be easy, but we have to work together to at least try and make it better. I also love the idea in the show that: “two things can be true at the same time.” Someone can be an excellent teacher, but they also can be a groomer. You can have an attentive, loving parent who could have and does sexually assault people. Unfortunately, we must live with this dichotomy, which is a part of life. It doesn’t make things easier, but being aware of it will hopefully help us to navigate the world better.
TW: John Proctor Is The Villain contains themes and conversations related to grooming, sexual assault, violence, race, mental health, and other mature topics.
TICKETS AND DETAILS
See more production photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/147938444@N07/53270774959/in/album-72177720312058558
John Proctor Is The Villain runs at the Charity Randall Theatre on the Pitt campus through October 29. Tickets available: https://www.play.pitt.edu/production/john-proctor-villain