When it comes to dramatic justice and the history of American witch hunts, the entertainment industry pretty much has one icon, Elia Kazan. Now, the Yale Dramat has another: his granddaughter.
Zoe Kazan is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College. She has been acting most of her life and tried out for four plays when she got to school. She counts them off on her right hand, covered by a pink mesh glove.
The heads of the Dramat say she’s a great actress. This fall, she will play Abigail in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” which goes up next week.
And this is where the Dramat, though hesitant to admit it, gets its own dose of theatrical irony. Zoe Kazan remains consciously aloof about the fact that she has been cast in the role of the witch hunter, a role Miller based on her grandfather.
“My relationship with my grandfather has always been that of a granddaughter to a grandfather,” she said. “Who he is as an artist has nothing to do with who I am as an artist.”
In his heyday, Elia Kazan was, in fact, a great artist. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest directors in American cinema and one of the most hated men in Hollywood.
In 1947, Kazan, a former member of the Communist Party, handed a list of names to Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.
On that list was what has come to be called the Hollywood Ten: nine writers and one director who were imprisoned in the early 1950s for refusing to answer the infamous question, “Are you, or have you ever been, a Communist?”
Four years ago, at the fiftieth anniversary of the appearance of the Ten before HUAC, the Hollywood community made a public apology for their acquiescence to McCarthy and the Red Scare. Two years later, Elia Kazan received a lifetime achievement award at the Academy Awards, and people sat on their hands.
But Zoe Kazan said she doesn’t consider there to be anything particularly interesting about her playing Abigail, a girl in an unnamed Massachusetts town who accuses innocent people of witchcraft.
“My conception for Abigail is as a person and not as a figurehead,” she said. “And anyway, the comparison [between her and the elder Kazan] doesn’t hold water. There were no such things as witches and there were such things as communists.”
How did her parents react when she told them about the part?
She said they said, “Congratulations.”
And how did her grandfather react?
“He’s very old. He doesn’t hear very well anymore. I don’t know if my parents have told him yet,” she said.
Jeffrey Little, head of the Dramat, as well as both the director and producer of “The Crucible” declined to comment on the choice of Kazan for the role.
Zoe Kazan is convinced enough that the character she will play next week is not her grandfather, that she was eager to point out the similarities between her and Abigail.
“The way I’m looking at Abigail, we’re a very close match. She feels everything really deeply; she’s always watching people,” she said.
Asked about the relevance of “The Crucible” to her, Kazan spoke about the relevance of the play to contemporary audiences.
“Arthur Miller tried to write a play about his time period, but it took on a life of its own,” she said. “It’s about humans influencing each other in ways they can’t totally control.”