BWW Reviews: Sequel to The Crucible ABIGAIL/1702 Mesmerizes at ICT

BWW Reviews: Sequel to The Crucible ABIGAIL/1702 Mesmerizes at ICT

Abigail/1702/by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa/directed by Caryn Desai/ICT, Long Beach/through May 24

The creation of Arthur Miller's now classic The Crucible about the Salem witch trials of 1692 was influenced by the McCarthy era of the 50s. It provided an intensely ferocious perspective on the unjust distortion and destruction of human life. In Salem, Massachusetts it was a religious issue - did you believe in God or the Devil Incarnate? McCarthyism was about Americans and their supposed involvement with the Communist Party. Religion and politics should be private issues, but in a community riddled with guilt about morality, there is no such thing as personal. Your way of life is an open book for all to judge and condemn. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has penned an imagined sequel to The Crucible entitled Abigail/1702 about protagonist/witch namer Abigail Williams (Jennifer Cannon), who escapes Salem and tries to find salvation after her crimes. The action picks up ten years later in 1702, and as a thought-provoking piece now onstage at ICT, Long Beach, it works quite well under the expert guidance of director Caryn Desai and with the help of five outstanding performances.

BWW Reviews: Sequel to The Crucible ABIGAIL/1702 Mesmerizes at ICT

As stimulating as The Crucible is, the topic is intense, with little or no humor, and as drama goes, in spite of its stimulation, it is long and somewhat tedious, especially if not handled with TLC by a production's director and actors. Abigail/1702 is much shorter and concentrates on one individual instead of an entire community, and thus, it provides a far simpler focus. Playwright Aguirre-Sacasa, also on the plus side, really nails the language and style of the original work and manages to make Abigail's conflict both intriguing and heart-grabbing. She finds herself falling in love with a supposed pirate John Brown (Ross Hellwig), who shows up at her doorstep with the pox and seeking her medical and spiritual guidance. Let's back up a bit. When Abigail left Salem, after she had accused Elizabeth Proctor (Michelle Holmes) of witchcraft - Abigail had been in love with John Proctor, Elizabeth's husband, and had branded Elizabeth a witch out of her own selfish romantic interests in John. As our play opens, Abigail is on the run, being pursued by her uncle Reverend Paris (Kevin Bailey) and finds solace from a woman named Margaret Hale (also Holmes) who befriends her, sets her on the right path of salvation and, upon her death, wills her her home. The action juts back and forth with Abigail remembering her wicked behavior in 1692 in the woods, dancing sensuously with Tituba and the other girls and then returns to 1702, where she keeps her past a secret and names herself Goodie Ruth Meadow. Brown also has a secret about his fiery past - he has murdered his father, but this is unbeknownst to Abigail at the time of their meeting. As a result of her caring for him, he is cured of the pox, falls in love with her and hopes to build a solid future as her husband. But Abigail's torture about the past makes the union impossible, particularly when the Devil (also played by Bailey) shows up and wishes to complete the pact she had made with him years earlier.

BWW Reviews: Sequel to The Crucible ABIGAIL/1702 Mesmerizes at ICT

What eventually comes to Abigail, as secrets reveal themselves, is a spiritual healing that is quite rich and endearing to behold. Her guilt about the past and her steady good work and benevolence lead to her salvation by God and expulsion of the devil from her soul. Aguirre-Sacasa works in some genuinely fascinating background for Abigail, especially a riveting monologue about her early teenage years during which she pronounced herself without fear of the devil. When her family and the townsfolk around her were found dead, she blamed herself for what happened. Hers is a deep emotional scar that actually began tearing away at her soul long before her involvement with John and Elizabeth Proctor.

Under Desai's meticulous direction, the cast are astounding. Cannon makes Abigail a totally caring and likable woman, which is no easy task. Though strong-willed, Abigail is torn apart by her past and without a grip on reality, cannot envision any kind of stability for her future. Cannon gives a truly luminous performance throughout. Bailey and Holmes are both called upon to play three roles each. They are genuine pros and handle all the characters with panache. Bailey's Lucifer is a real treat and Holmes' Proctor is vengeful yet ultimately sympathetic. Handsome Hellwig is sturdy and appealing as the stranger Brown, and in his brief scenes as the little boy Jace Febo succeeds admirably. Christopher Scott Murillo's set is simple but serves the exterior and interior action well, and Kim DeShazo's costumes are period perfect.

For some, who dislike plays about religious attachments, Abigail/1702 may be a bad choice, but for most, it should offer a fine sense of spirituality, a chance for reckoning with one's hidden weaknesses. With this fine cast, it is definitely worth your while.

BWW Reviews: Sequel to The Crucible ABIGAIL/1702 Mesmerizes at ICT

www.ictlongbeach.org

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