Playwright Sarah Ruhl returns for her sixth play at Berkeley Rep, a new work called Becky Nurse of Salem. It revisits the topic of the Salem Witch Trials, which many know primarily through Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. That play pulled on the resonance between the McCarthy hearings and the witch trials, but Ruhl says, it puts the spotlight on the metaphor, and not the innocent women who were put to death. Her play is a dark comedy, set in contemporary Salem.
There’s more information about the play at the Berkeley Rep website.
She says she started thinking about this new work after seeing a production of The Crucible in New York. “There was something about the way it dove into the sexuality of the young girls, and how I realized that the play was really pinning the entire witchcraft epidemic on the desire of Abigail Williams for John Proctor. And I just thought, that can’t possibly be true! And then I did a little research, and sure enough, Abigail was 11, historically, John Proctor was 60, they never met. So, I was interested in penetrating the heart of that a little bit.” Ruhl says her way into the story was through its heroine. “It’s always different, and it’s always like threading a needle, how do you begin? And I think with this play it really began with Becky, the main character, who I knew was a descendant of Rebecca Nurse. And once she started talking, I just kept following her. So, it’s like following string. Once you get a character to start speaking, if you follow them and they talk for you, you can kind of follow the story.” Rebecca Nurse was hanged in 1692 for witchcraft (and appears as a character in The Crucible). Becky works as a docent in a local museum. “And she’s a salty truth-teller,” Ruhl says, “and she starts getting into trouble when she goes to see a local witch in town.” This play also reflects the time in which it was written, in the ‘Me Too’ Era. “Part of what inspired the play was hearing Donald Trump say ‘witch hunt’ 600 times, and also get large crowds into a froth, screaming ‘Lock her up!’ to Hillary Clinton. And I kind of thought, what century is this, where these large crowds are shouting ‘Lock her up!’ about a woman? It seems like it’s the 17th Century.”