Vicki Paris Goodman
Sequels, especially those written by someone other than the author of the original work, are precarious endeavors. Or so I thought. Thank goodness International City Theatre didn’t dismiss such a play out of hand.
Abigail/1702 imagines the next 10 years in the life of Abigail Williams, the young woman whose sins of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible led to the Salem witch trials and the deaths of 20 innocent souls in their aftermath.
So not only has playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa attempted a sequel, his play means to follow a classic written by one of the foremost wordsmiths of the 20th century!
A dramatic work that turns today’s fashionable moral relativism on its head, Abigail/1702 conspicuously advocates for repentance, sacrifice and the power of good works in atoning for past misdeeds.
The stunning Jennifer Cannon stars as Abigail, who after fleeing the scene of her grievous offenses has landed at an old woman’s (Michelle Holmes) house in which victims of “the pox” are treated. It is 10 years later, and the old woman has died, leaving Abigail the house, some money, and the proficiency with which to competently care for victims of the disease.
The intensity of Cannon’s sobering depiction of Abigail only makes rare moments of lightness more noticeable, more joyful. The religiosity of her character’s commitment to making up for past mistakes stands in stark contrast to the excuses that pass for atonement today.
Cannon’s Abigail is less passively ashamed, and more actively involved, in doing all she can to help others, her lack of self-pity making her all the more admirable, even likable. She long ago dismissed a life of happiness and self-satisfaction, such as might be possible with a husband and family.
Enter a dashing young seafarer (Ross Hellwig), who’s made his own peace with a misguided past. Having been referred to Abigail for treatment, he appears at the house already suffering from advanced stages of the disease.
Abigail is reluctant to admit him for treatment, perhaps because of the threat he represents to her commitment to chastity and her unrelenting focus on charitable good deeds. But we soon learn that he too has turned to God for salvation, as he completes each line of scripture that Abigail recites in prayer.
Aguirre-Sacasa’s timeline pitches to and fro among “present” events and others occurring earlier in the decade to complete the story of Abigail’s reconciliation of her past.
The versatile Kevin Bailey takes on a number of roles, not the least of which is the devil, to whom Abigail traded her soul in childhood so that her life would be spared in an incident unrelated to the play’s action. It is left somewhat to interpretation as to what part the misbegotten exchange played in Abigail’s terrible past deeds, but the truth of the matter is of little consequence.
Bailey’s devil is cavalier, entertaining and, as such, just a smidge too stylistically modern for the early 18th-century setting, especially when a New York accent emerges without warning.
However, Bailey’s more serious roles are performed to perfection. One of the play’s most powerful scenes is one in which Bailey plays a judge who is unreceptive to Abigail’s impassioned confession.
Several additional older women are played by Holmes, who instills in each brief role the subtlety that differentiates her characters.
Jace Febo is charming as a little orphan boy whose origins come as part of a surprise twist at play’s end.
As with so many fine plays, Aguirre-Sacasa leaves an important question of his enlightening parable to our imaginative minds to conclude. And as with so many fine productions, pitch-perfect director caryn desai [sic] leaves us wanting more.
Abigail/1702 continues at International City Theatre through May 24. Tickets are $48 for Saturday evening and Sunday matinee performances, and $46 for Thursday and Friday evening performances. Evening performances are at 8pm.; Sunday matinees are at 2pm. ICT is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center at 300 East Ocean Blvd. Call (562) 436-4610 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at InternationalCityTheatre.org .