A Theater Double-Feature

Renée Morth prepares her student-actors for opening night with a thoughtful, rigorous process that would make Stanislavski proud. Right now, Morth is helping her cast of 17, including three Middle Schoolers, plumb the depths of Arthur Miller’s classic drama about the Salem Witch Trials, “The Crucible,” whose two-night run starts Friday, Nov. 2.

Even with her careful planning, Morth gets the same feeling every time she stages a new production: “I go home at night and think, ‘My God, this isn’t going to work at all.’ Of course, I’m always wrong and it always works, but somehow that doesn’t stop me from thinking it. Every time!” she said with a laugh, shaking her head.

But part of the reason it works out every time is that Morth remains true to the same thorough method that gets her students to the heart of the material. “I help them to investigate the complexity of the character through a series of questions. Physically, are they the same as you or different? When they walk, what part of their body do they lead with and how does that affect how they carry themselves? We approach voice the same way,” she said. “We ask each other a lot of questions to get to the ultimate one: What does this character want in this scene, and how does that connect to what he wants in the overall play?”

Asked why she chose “The Crucible,” Morth effused that the material presented her and her cast with an embarrassment of riches.

“It’s a stellar play, written exceptionally well,” Morth said. “The Crucible’ is fascinating to me personally because of its vivid depictions of hypocrisy and duplicity and the roles that they played in our society then, and continue to play in modern society as well.

“All the best drama is timeless,” Morth continued, “but the idea that this whole town gets wrapped up and duped by this, less charitable, shall we say, side of human nature — it’s just irresistible.”

In addition to directing “The Crucible,” Morth is also stepping into the assistant’s role for Country Day’s collaborative production of T.S. Eliot’s “Murder In The Cathedral,” the first such partnership in the school’s history.

Her applied theater students are working with actors from St. Edwards Episcopal Church in Lancaster.

Besides working with other actors, the students also have the unique opportunity to work with director Matthew Sternberg, who was assistant director to E. Martin Browne for the 1975 anniversary production of “Murder in the Cathedral” in London. Browne had also directed the play in its Canterbury debut.

“When I asked my students what piqued their interest, they all said the collaboration,” Morth said. “Matthew wanted to expose a younger generation to the play, but also wanted to expand it to students, so it was a win-win.”

Fall Theater What’s Doing

  • “Murder In The Cathedral” 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26-27, at St. Edwards Episcopal Church, 2453 Harrisburg Pike, Lancaster.
  • Franklin & Marshall history professor Van Gosse will lead a free discussion on the Red Scare and “The Crucible” at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16 in the Steinman Theatre. The event is sponsored by Project Arts, supporting the visual and performing arts program at LCDS.
  • “The Crucible,” 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2-3 in the Steinman Theatre.