In the last two weeks I have had the opportunity to see wonderful productions of two classic plays - The Crucible by Arthur Miller and A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen. I was excited to see these plays since I had studied both of them during my years as a student. How ironic, considering the fact that many schools are considering teaching less literature in favor of more "informational texts". Bah! I wonder if I would have been interested in attending these productions, if I hadn't been introduced to them in school? I think not. As a matter of fact, Madeleine, who is 16, asked if she could come with Geoff and me to see The Crucible since she had studied it earlier this year! Imagine that! The arts and cultural entertainment could be just one more causality of removing challenging literature from our schools' curriculum. What a pity.
Before seeing The Crucible I decided to try an experiment. I decided to reread it to see if familiarizing myself with the details of the story would add or detract from my enjoyment of it. I have considered doing this in the past, but always decided not to, in order to let the story wash over me - without any expectations. I was somewhat surprised to find that a fresh exposure to the play added to my enjoyment of the production immensely! The Crucible is a complex and multi-layered story and having read it ahead of time really added to my understanding of the deeper messages of the plot. Having the time to really ponder the moral questions presented by Miller added another level of appreciation to the live production.
Book review: If you've never read The Crucible or last read it in High School, I highly recommend picking it up again and revisiting it as an adult. It's a surprisingly quick read (I read it in two short sittings) and it's so much more than "that book about the Salem witch trials." It's a moral story about having strength in your convictions, about standing up for what you know is right, about personal honor and dignity and about the love between a husband and wife struggling within a flawed marriage. It's powerful and I highly recommend it. 4 stars - I really liked it.
After my positive experience with The Crucible, I decided to reread A Doll's House before seeing the play as well. I'm really glad I did, too, because the play was written in 1879 and the production I saw was set in 1959. As I was reading the play, I wondered how the director was going to pull that off since the language and story seemed so dated. The adaptation that the director and his partner created was brilliant - updated, but still very true to the original. And I would never had known that had I not reread the play. This gave me an entirely new level of appreciation for the play.
Book review: I didn't enjoy A Doll's House as much as I did The Crucible, but it is still a very accessible and easy to read classic. It's the story of a marriage that seems happy on the surface, but is actually quite the opposite. Torvald has a controlling and condescending relationship with his seemingly weak and dependent wife, Nora. Nora, however, is not the delicate flower Torvald thinks she is and is in reality working feverishly to hide a secret from Torvald. By the end of the play, Nora comes to a realization that will have repercussions for herself, her marriage and her family. The play was highly controversial when it was first produced in 1879 and it translated very well into the 1950s. It's a little less relevant today, but it still presents some truths that resonate with a modern audience. 3 stars - I liked it.