Aurora Theatre is presenting Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s “Abigail/1702,” a powerful drama set 10 years after the Salem witch trials and the events of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”
The play, directed by Justin Anderson, will run on Aurora’s main stage through Oct. 15. You may remember Actor’s Express’ 2010 production of the playwright’s “Good Boys and True”; he is also an accomplished screenwriter.
Abigail Williams, the pernicious teen temptress whose testimony sent at least 20 people to the gallows in the notorious Salem witch trials, was a real person; but little is known of her actions after the trials and executions. Arthur Miller, after “The Crucible,” suggested that she went to Boston and became a harlot, but that is largely conjecture. Her fate seems to have been lost in the mists of history.
The author of “Abigail/1702” says “I’m interested in stories about redemption. How would a character responsible for the deaths of 20 to 30 people set about redeeming herself?” Is redemption even possible for Abigail; and if so, can she outrun a date with the Devil—because he wants to claim her soul. Aguirre-Sacasa thought a character “so reviled in history and literature” would have an intriguing psychology, to say the least. That is his challenge; and he more than succeeds; he rivets his audience to their seats.
Please know two things: You don’t have to have read or seen “ The Crucible” to enjoy “Abigail,” but it helps. Also, keep in mind that for the Puritans, the Devil (I’m capitalizing because they certainly would) was as real as their closest neighbor.
That’s especially true for Abigail (Diany Rodriguez), now living under the assumed name of Ruth Meadow. She’s spent the last decade trying to atone for her deadly perjury and her compact with Satan himself (Peter Hardy, who also plays other roles). Ruth is running a pox healing house in a remote part of Boston; the house was left to her. Since she had had a childhood bout of smallpox and recovered, she is now immune; and she treats the afflictions of sailors returned from the sea. She has also treated a young boy named Thomas (Joshua Pagan), and the two have grown close.
Then Ruth takes in a pox-stricken sailor named John Brown (Lee Osorio) and begins treating him by drawing blood using leeches. She seems to have a healing touch; odd for a woman with such an evil past, but good playwrights recognize the power of paradox. There is an older woman about town (Olivia D. Dawson), but I must cloak her in mystery, except to say she plays more than one part.
In one dreamlike sequence, Ruth/Abigail appears to revert to her former notorious self, and writhes and laughs hysterically. This is a chilling, thrilling moment, once again revealing to all the aura of mystery and foreboding that hangs over the proceedings.
Meanwhile, the handsome John expresses his sincere attraction to Ruth, who reluctantly returns his attraction, but doubts that she is worthy of such happiness. And there is more to both characters than meets the eye; more mystery, you see.
I must say that Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay’s set, Marc Gwinn’s sound, and Ben Rawson’s lighting all add immeasurably to the moody ambience. Director Justin Anderson leaves no stone unturned; his meticulousness, insight, and brilliant way with actors are all topnotch.
This is a tightly written play whose ending I would not dare reveal; you’ll have to see the show.
The cast is superb: subtle, fine, and powerful. My compliments to Mr. Osorio, Ms. Dawson, Mr. Hardy, and Mr. Pagan.
As for Ms. Rodriguez, all I can say is she is giving a breakthrough performance. She’s always fine, excels in musicals, and after her explosive comedic work in True Colors’ “Between Riverside and Crazy,” I suppose I should not have been surprised. But she is extraordinary here; she’s one of those performers who seems always to have an inner light glowing, and she comes into her own in “Abigail/1702” as a dramatic actor to be reckoned with. Don’t miss her.
And don’t miss this play; Aurora does not rest on its laurels. It occurs to me that this show would make a superb Halloween play! But it’s much more than that. Go and enjoy.
For tickets and information, visit auroratheatre.com.