BWW Review: New England Premiere of ABIGAIL/1702 Fits the Season
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Directed by Tlaloc Rivas; Scenic Designer, James J. Fenton; Costume Designer, Anne Kennedy; Lighting Designer, Maria-Cristina Fusté; Sound Designer, David Remedios; Production Stage Manager, Casey L. Hagwood
Performances through November 6 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA; Box Office 978-654-4678 or www.mrt.org
Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents the New England premiere of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's Abigail/1702 just in time for the Halloween season. The play is meant to haunt you as it explores the aftermath of the 1692 Salem witch trials, and the design team creates an atmosphere that is spooky on many levels. However, the external trappings notwithstanding, it is the demon within that is most fearsome and cannot be escaped. Abigail Williams disappeared from Salem to start a new life in Boston, but she will find no peace until she exorcises her own guilt.
For those of us native to New England, we cut our teeth on tales from the witch trials and have always had some bizarre pride in Salem being the Halloween capital of the country, but how many of us know what happened to any of the characters who were not put to death? Some families fled to Framingham where, even now, there is a street named Salem End Road. In Abigail/1702, the young accuser tries to lose herself in Boston and do good works as a healer, mostly caring for sick sailors. If the almighty keeps score, Abigail has probably earned sufficient karma points to make up for the harm she did; but there is still that deal she made with The Devil that looms over her.
Abigail's path to redemption relies on her good works and her faith in God, although it is clear that she is not confident that she will succeed. She cannot make amends to the twenty people that she accused who were executed, but she hopes that her attempt to beg forgiveness from the widow of John Proctor (with whom Abigail had an affair) will assuage some of her guilt and get The Devil off her back. The scene between these two women is gut-wrenching, thanks to the high stakes involved and the acting talents of Rachel Napoleon (Abigail) and Celeste Oliva (Elizabeth Proctor). Oliva is also featured as two other older women and does an outstanding job of differentiating them.
NapoLeon Carries the drama on her shoulders and capably shows her character's fears and conflicting emotions. Her hard edge and her nurturing nature compete when she cares for a sailor who comes to her with the pox. John Brown (Jon Kovach) gives her the kind of attention that she has not allowed herself to enjoy in her new life, but he also seems to be hiding from his past. The relationship between Abigail and John creates both sparks and suspense. Mark Kincaid, listed as Older Man, also portrays multiple characters in the play. Trevor Dame makes his Merrimack debut as the Little Boy, but the role is not well-defined and he fails to capture the importance of his character.
Director Tlaloc Rivas masterfully creates suspense and uses all of the elements available to him to provide the audience with a scary ride. James J. Fenton's scenic design brilliantly evokes a colonial cottage in the woods, and lighting designer Maria-Cristina Fuste and Sound Designer David Remedios combine to provide the necessary spooky atmospherics. Anne Kennedy's costume designs effectively bring us into the period. Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa knows his way around a horror story and MRT pushes all of the right buttons in Abigail/1702.