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This fall, Artistic Producer Jonathan Berry will tackle Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as part of Steppenwolf for Young Adults. Within the classic, he found a thoroughly modern tale of power structures dealing with the weight of lies on society. In his staging, he looks to reaffirm that in 1692 Salem, and now, witches are never what they seem.

 

Jonathan Berry

You’ve been working with Steppenwolf for two decades now.
It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years. Moving to Chicago was a last-minute decision that ended up being incredibly serendipitous. I arrived and wrote letters to every theater I could find an address for—including one to [longtime artistic director] Martha Lavey. She opened everything. I started an internship here in January of ’98.

Why stage this play now?
It has been on my radar for a while, and I jumped at the chance. I read The Crucible in high school, and I don’t recall thinking ‘This is a play for me.’ The exciting challenge is how to make it accessible. It still feels incredibly of the moment.

How is it accessible?
In it, this group of women has neither agency nor a future where agency is possible. They see an opportunity to finally have a degree of control, and of course they grab it. I think young people now feel similarly. They are in a world where they continue to lack agency over their own lives. There’s nothing that I have to do except put the focus on that.

What are your hopes for the production?
I hope that someone who doesn’t necessarily hold my beliefs can watch the play and see their own version of truth in it. That’s what gets us into really interesting territory.

Did your recent visit to Salem affect your perspective of the work?
Walking through some of the homes from that time, there were rooms with ceilings inches above my head. It creates a degree of containment that I’m going to try to convey in the staging. It will feed into the feeling of this incredibly pressurized place where there’s nowhere to go. You’re going to bump into things and you’re going to bump into each other. There’s no relief.

This season’s theme is ‘When does a lie become the truth?’ How is that portrayed?
There’s a scene between Abigail Williams and John Proctor before the trials—what’s clear to me is that Abigail really believes what she’s saying. It’s important because it shifts her character away from malevolence; it has transformed her. This happens incredibly frequently—in the moment that we’re living in now, there is a slipperiness of facts. The human mind is a remarkable thing. If reality is not something you can live with, the mind will allow you to believe something else. Oct. 4-21, tickets $20