Patrick French as John Proctor and Amanda Burke as Abigail Williams in Needham Community Theatre's "The Crucible."/ Credit: Chris Tess

For seven decades, Needham Community Theatre has brought to town a treasure trove of the American playbook, such as the smash musicals “Shrek” and “Mary Poppins” and serious dramas such as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.” This month it will conclude its 69th season with Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” 

Patrick French, who portrays the compromised Puritan townsman John Proctor in the play, is a veteran of Hollywood films, television commercials and the Improv Asylum. “It’s a very talented cast and crew,” he said. “The audience can expect a strong performance of a classic play.”

The 2023-2024 season began in the fall with Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man.” “In the fall we try to do a show that is very family- and kid-oriented so that we can have big audiences and support doing a show like ‘The Crucible’ in the spring,” said Diane Rothauser, a volunteer who does publicity, marketing, and make-up design for NCT.

“The Crucible” is a saga of accusation and counter-accusation set in the 1690s during the Salem witch trials. Released in 1953, its storyline paralleled the repressive and paranoid spirit of McCarthyism that was then sweeping the nation. 

“Basically the show is about these girls who hang out in the forest at night doing these really obnoxious girl, teenage things,” said Rothauser. “They get accused of being witches, and in turn, they accuse other people.”

Amanda Burke, a 23-year-old senior at UMass Boston who has been involved with theater all of her life, plays Abigail Williams, one of the accusers. 

“She understands how the town operates and harps on its hysteria,” Burke said. “She’s a 17-year-old girl who falls in love with her own delusions.”

“It was guilty until proven innocent,” Burke said of the setting. “Salem was an exhausted settlement where everyone is trying their best to hold on. It snowballs into chaos by the end of the play.”

“We felt that this play was a very timely allegory to what is going on today,” said Rothauser.

Burke said anyone who has experienced people taking online hearsay seriously and jumping to the wrong conclusions will enjoy this play. “It’s a bit of a sparring match,” she said. “The play is both historical and modern. It’s not a horror play but it keeps you on your toes. If you like ‘Game of Thrones,’ I would recommend this play.” 

Community theater has a long tradition of involving whole families in the cast and crew, and NCT is no different. Becky King, who plays Ann Putnam, a Puritan woman she describes as “death ridden and haunted by dreams,” has been in about a half-dozen NCT productions, some with her husband and some with her children. Having moved to Needham in 1999 from the West Coast, she said Needham Community Theatre is a big part of her community in town. 

“Community theater is a good opportunity for kids to act alongside experienced adults,” said French.

After “The Crucible” wraps, Needham Community Theatre will begin auditions for its fall play, “Fiddler on the Roof.” 

Tickets for the May 10-19 performances of “The Crucible” can be purchased on the Needham Community Theatre website.

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