BY SANDY STAGGS
There is a world premiere, and then there is a “new” play.
Furman University Theatre students have the rich understanding of the difference as they receive a master class level experience with a brand new drama by Kimberly “John Proctor the Villain,” a modern twist on “The Crucible” conveyed through the prism of the #MeToo.
Presented in partnership with The Farm Theater (NY), Centre College (KY), and Rollins College (FL), Furman Theatre’s is the third production of Kimberly Belflower’s new play as part of The College Collaboration Project, which helps emerging playwrights develop culturally relevant plays.
Set in a high school in rural Georgia, a scandal rocks the community just as an English class is debating Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” The fate of John Proctor and the doomed Abigail is reexamined as real-life rumors force the students to “grapple with allegations that are coming out in their town and how they relate to ‘The Crucible’,” according to director Maegan McNerney Azar.
All season The Farm Theater and students from the three institutions have worked with Belflower to look into every angle of the #metoo movement and participate in the work-in-progress.
The Farm Theater, named after minor league baseball farm teams that are training grounds before the pros, is structured after the National New Play Network’s “rolling world premiere” in which three professional theatres in fairly quick succession share the honor, artistic knowledge, experience, and risk of launching a brand new work.
Kimberly has been very available remotely throughout the intensive work-in-progress and some students went up in August to meet with her at Centre College in Danville, KY, Azar said, where they studied character breakdowns and “personal perspectives on how they were raised and topics such as gender, gender roles, sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
“Her conversation with the students was already informed by two other productions and Kimberly really knows this script,” Azar said.
The playwright was also been on hand and in person just before tech week and for opening night, consulting with the actors, the creative team, and dramaturg and associate Professor of Theatre Caroline Davis, she said.
“The process has been a lot of fun, and very informative and educational for them” to engage in the rewriting process of a workshop production.
Azar also “expects more rewrites after our show before the actual world premiere and professional production in June.”
And after each performance, Furman Theatre continues the conversation with a variety of guest speakers on topics from the show, including the playwright and Padraic Lillis (Artistic Director of The Farm Theater), who can receive instant audience feedback); as well as esteemed Furman faculty members such as Dr. Marion Strobel (history), Dr. Marian Burky (feminism and religion), Dr. Scott Henderson (sex education), and more.
The latter topic is germane to the play as the English class also doubles as Sex Education. No, that is no typo.
Early in the process, Azar said her group spent a day discussing sex education literacy and was bowled over by “how vastly the students’ exposures to sex education differed depending on where they grew up: big city, small town, religious environment, etc. It was incredible, the half-truths, the untruths, the blatant lies that people were told,” she added. “And many schools don’t even talk about consent.”
This show is for mature audiences due to language and sexual content.
“John Proctor is the Villain” runs through April 13 at 8 p.m. and with two 3 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday, April 13-14 at The Playhouse at Furman University, 3300 Poinsett Highway in Greenville. For tickets, call Box Office (864) 294-2125 or visit this LINK.