​‘The Crucible’ Features Sewanee Theatre Legends

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer

Two esteemed former Sewanee theatre professors are part of a world infected with poisonous charges, religious conflict and demonic unions in the play “The Crucible.”
The Arthur Miller drama, which begins a five-show run at the Tennessee Williams Center today (Friday), is set during the Salem Witch Trials, but also reflects and was written during the Red Scare of the 1950s when Sen. Joseph McCarthy led the hunt to expose Communists.
Marcia Mary Cook, who taught theatre at Sewanee from 1995 to 2015, plays Rebecca Nurse, a woman with a big family of 11 children and the additional challenge of being labeled a witch.
“She was known for her compassionate and universal ministry to people,” Cook said. “One of the things that I love about our roles is that both of them are historical people, and they both lost their lives in the Witch Hunt.”
David Landon, who taught theatre at Sewanee for four decades, plays Giles Corey, another historical figure accused of being in league with the Devil. Corey refuses to surrender his principles to support a sham, Landon said.
Cook and Landon, who gathered to talk about their roles over coffee recently, said they both remember the days of the Red Scare. Landon’s mom and dad bought their first small black and white TV just to watch the McCarthy congressional hearings, and Cook and her husband bought a TV for the same reason.
“I still see that guy (McCarthy) badgering people,” Landon said.
Cook, a certified spiritual director and public speaking coach, last shared a stage with Landon in 2015, when they played in Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
Landon now teaches a class on the theatre education of William Shakespeare in New York City and at the Shakespeare Festival in Nashville.
Landon, 80, last took the stage playing King Lear in the 2016 Nashville Shakespeare Festival. This is his third time in “The Crucible” and his second run as Giles Corey—the last time he played Corey was as a 16-year-old high school student in 1955.
Cook got into acting because her father, a silent movie actor and later a theatre director, needed a young girl to play in “The Drunkard” when she was six. Her dad, Ulmont Healy, had a small part in the 1915 Civil War era film “The Birth of a Nation” among other films.
Landon found his way into theatre after an initial interest in literature. Finishing his PhD at Vanderbilt University, he was asked to be in a French play. He eventually was offered a job at Sewanee in which he would teach French part-time and theatre part-time.
“That’s a carrot you couldn’t resist,” Cook observed.
He began acting professionally in plays and landed some TV commercials and work in NYC. Landon said he stayed with one foot in academia for his family, but also because he wanted a deeper training in acting.
“Every time I do this, I remember how much I enjoy it,” he said. “I think what actors do is profound and important, not just entertainment.”
He said acting is a challenge and helps find “the other in ourselves” and see what we share with other people.
“To learn how to say great words as if they were our own,” he added. “To take risks and to learn to find your personal expressivity but in the context of a shared enterprise.”
Cook agreed with the profound nature of acting.
“It’s not just entertainment, to get out of myself and into another role,” she said. “When I get on the stage and have my lines down pat and know who I am saying this—when I feel that person coming from me in those words—I feel so at home.”
“It’s something that never ends,” Landon said.
Director James Crawford said he was thrilled when Cook and Landon agreed to join the cast.
“This is a play about a community, and here are two pillars of our own community playing pillars of the community,” he said.
Crawford added that “The Crucible” with its themes manifesting the discord of the Salem Witch Trials and the Red Scare, is also applicable today.
“The years 1692 and 1953 reflect back and forth off one another in the play, and the beauty of theatre is that the year 2018 is in there bouncing off them as well,” he said. “I think it will be hard for anyone to see this play today and not think about elements of our current political situation. We’re living in an age in which ‘fake news’ has become a powerful political force, whipping people into frenzies of irrationality, just as it did in Salem.”
The shows are Feb. 23 and 24, March 1, 2, 3 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee show on Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. Tickets are free and can be reserved at Eventbrite.com.
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