On Behalf of the Chucklers

A post-script regarding humorous moments. One of the loveliest things about this fandom, for me, has been the opportunity to engage with (in my experience) women of all ages, nationalities, and cultures. One facet of this that has personally fascinated me throughout this Crucible experience, is that I have read many accounts in forums, facebook posts and blogs, in which the theatre-goer expressed dismay and even offended sensibilities when the audience would chuckle during the performance.

So, on behalf of those who have derived amusement from the seemingly inappropriate moments, I can only say that I did appreciate several droll moments of humor, as intended by the playwright. Arthur Miller had an understated and wry sense of humor, and while this is indeed no comedy, many of the word choices and phrases could have been said in many different ways, but he specifically selected words with double meanings and humorous connotations.

  • A nice illustration of this is Miller’s play on words when Parrish commented on the heavy stack of books Reverend Hale handed to him. In response, Hale replies, “They must be, they are weighted with authority.”
  • Another is Proctor’s line “Oh, Elizabeth! Your justice would freeze beer!” There are infinite ways in which JP could have expressed his discontent with her brittle watchfulness, but here is a manly line, and one of my favorites!
  • Another line that pleased me was Proctor’s sly compliment on his own seasoning of the stew.

I could wax on for quite some time listing these humorous moments, and how fabulous the cast was to have so seamlessly delivered them in the midst of such devastating themes and circumstances. I will say this: having read The Crucible in school and watched the Daniel Day-Lewis movie, I really didn’t have either an expectation of or an appreciation for the humor in this particular work before seeing the production in London. This was one of the nicest surprises for me.

Possibly some of the double meanings and innuendo are lost in translation when English is not a theatre-goer’s first language, and perhaps humor is also a very cultural phenomenon. One audience chuckle in particular really bothered some viewers- it was in Act 4, when Rebecca Nurse is being lead to the gallows, and she stumbles a bit. Several chuckles were to be heard following Rebecca’s line about how she faltered only because “I’ve had no breakfast.” I don’t think I chuckled here, but I did smile and appreciated a subtle humor in that, yet many others were basically flabbergasted that anyone could find it funny. My two cents: of course it’s not funny that this elderly, virtuous, wrongfully-condemned woman missed breakfast, but the understated humor lies in the fact that this is the LEAST of her problems, on execution day, yet she has the grace to make a light remark as she is being lead to her death. Many heroes in popular culture make light remarks in the face of death, and while it is not hilarious, it brings a moment of humor. Thus you will hear a few chuckles.

Having said all this, I by no means just laughed lightheartedly all through the performance, blithely ignoring the desolation all around me. Trust me, I also became very tearful, felt weak-kneed, hollow and basically devastated at the end. It was truly a rollercoaster to find comic relief at all in such a play, but I sincerely believe that is part of what makes The Crucible a classic.

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9 comments

  1. Servetus · September 16, 2014

    Wow, no comments on this yet? I’d have thought this would be a hot topic 🙂 This is one of those moments in fandom that really annoy me — I get so frustrated at the way that people seem to need to control their fellow fans’ reactions to things (even discursively) — indeed, so frustrated that I get involved in discursive control myself, in the attempt to criticize discursive control, which is always a signal that I’m overinvested and thus a bad move, lol. But I got so tired after the first month of reading negative comments about audience members who didn’t treat the theater like it was church.

    To me, what an audience finds funny (or doesn’t) is what it finds funny (or doesn’t), which is totally legitimate — one of the things plays are supposed to do is evoke genuine reactions from us and amusement (or black humor) is one of those. That process is influenced not only by the content or lines of the play itself, but the performance of same, and the way the audience interacts with the players, which in turn affects how the players pause, because laughter in the theater doesn’t work if people think that by laughing they will miss something important. On some nights there was huge laughter at a point where on another night, there was nothing at all, depending on the arc the actors were following that evening, and now the audience was taking the play, and their interactions. The only lines that I witnessed consistent laughter at were those of Giles Corey, and not even all of those. To me that’s a good sign — that this production of the play is more multivalent than I expected.

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    • jholland · September 17, 2014

      Right. There is definitely theatre protocol that needs to be followed, i.e. refrain from catcalls during the washing scene =), but I also found it strange to see all the remarks on genuine audience reaction. I know that feeling affronted by chuckling must have been also a legitimate experience for numerous people, but hopefully they understand that it was not disrespectfully done, and that it was more than likely expected by the performers in a number of places. The amount of laughter and when it happened was really an interesting gauge of the audience for me, and I’m sure the actors were tuned into it as well. =)

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      • Servetus · September 17, 2014

        Sure, affront is legitimate but it’s in a very different category for me than amusement. There are people who are extremely invested in being affronted and something is going to cause them to be affronted, no matter what it is, and they seem uninvolved in self-criticism. When a review concentrates on the reviewer’s feeling of affront to the expense of their discussion of the play, as happened several times this summer, I ask myself what the priority is for the reviewer. There’s an increasing tension in out public life that I have observed where somehow things that were okay twenty years ago are not acceptable now; and social media mean that we can vent everything we don’t like about what happens around us immediately; which seems to increase its legitimacy, and that in turn starts to be a matter of moral prescription, which is what I saw happening this summer. Thanks, I’ll laugh in the theater if I think something is funny.

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  2. Servetus · September 17, 2014

    In other words, it is legitimate to feel affronted in the sense that we’re entitled to our feelings. It may or may not be legitimate to turn that affront into a moral prescription. Everyone has to put up with a certain amount of frustration in public and people somehow seem to think that rule no longer applies.

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  3. jholland · September 17, 2014

    Precisely why I hesitated to even post this, being of the non-confrontational personality type. There are more than one “do not tread” areas in this fandom, (as you put it, established moral prescriptions) that become apparent very quickly when they are broached. Or breached. =) And when there were no comments, I feared I unintentionally offended people and almost took it down. The dilemmas of a baby blogger. lol

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    • Servetus · September 17, 2014

      You’re talking to the queen of committing transgressive breaches here — but I think it would be a lot better if we could talk about these things rationally. Always hoping for more of that.

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      • jholland · September 17, 2014

        You’re unafraid to post honestly and to wade in, which I admire. I’m reminded of the line “There are wheels within wheels in this village, and fires within fires…” Yes there are a lot of things going on under the surface in this fandom, and this is completely off topic regarding the chucklers, but I really was fascinated with your internal dilemma when you met Lady Squid, to introduce yourself or remain anonymous. I’m comparatively new to the fandom, so I may not have a complete picture of all that has gone before, but I can tell you this: I sat next to and spoke with about 6 different ladies from all over the world at The Crucible, and met several more in line at the Stage door. We’d compare notes, i.e. are you in a forum, on twitter, in a facebook group, etc. and most everyone mentioned meandrichard, though several were lurking like myself. I have a feeling that any one of us would have been delighted to meet you, had we the good fortune of sitting 2 seats away or standing in the queue with you. =)

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        • Servetus · September 17, 2014

          That’s kind of you to say. I’ve written several things that various people have objected to, strongly, over the years, and there are certain kinds of conversations I’ve prevented from taking place on my blog as a consequence of those episodes. Sometimes people’s objections to what I’ve done and their responses to my stubborn refusal to change my focus have taken on active, destructive form. I don’t think it’s in the fandom’s interest, though, for me to rehash details. I do write about my reactions to them because they are real and formative for me, anyway. I felt a lot better about the fandom after The Crucible than I have in a while, though 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Religion, superstition, piety, belief: me + adrian schiller in The Crucible | Me + Richard Armitage

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