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International City Theatre presents ‘Abigail/1702’

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Abigail/1702 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has received its West Coast premiere at Long Beach’s International City Theatre. As usual, the production is top quality.

caryn desai, the artistic director and firm hand at the helm of ICT, directs with clarity and craft.

The set by Christopher Scott Murillo is both intriguing and evocative of an early time in America when a dark, primeval forest still held the continent in its ancient grip.

ICT is a stunningly beautiful venue to work on and always attracts actors of standing and talent.

Jennifer Cannon as Abigail is solid and believable in her remorse. Kevin Bailey who originated the role of Scar in The Lion King fills his double duties in this production with skill and profundity.

Michelle Holmes, who was such a delight in the Young Frankenstein at DOMA, cannot be faulted in the fine performance she gives here.
Jace Febo has great presence for one so young, and Ross Hellwig performs well with his shirt off.

Forgive me, but there is not too much I can say here, because there is not much of a play to say anything about.

Abigail/1702 is Aguirre-Sacasa’s sequel to Arthur Miller’s Crucible, picking up ten years after the Salem witch trials to reveal the fate of Abigail Williams the young girl whose accusation of witchcraft led to the death of 20 people.

Historically the fate of Abigail Williams is not known. Court records of the time place her last testimony in the infamous trials on June 3, 1692. After that she disappears from history.

Rumors abound. That she ran off to Boston and died a prostitute there. That she hanged herself years later out of guilt. That she remained in Salem and died unmarried. Most accounts place 1697 as the year of her death but even that is questionable.

Aguirre-Sacasa has imagined her later life as one of remorse and searching for redemption.

Whether The Crucible requires a sequel is not the question, nor the problem here.

The problem here is that if The Crucible is given a sequel it damn well better be the one it deserves, and Abigail/1702 is far from that.

Aguirre-Sacasa’s other works include Spider-man:Turn Off the Dark, The Dracula Cycle and a musical adaption of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho— “Forgive that slight gurgling it’s me trying to stifle my lunch from launching into a “Technicolor yawn”—!

This from a graduate of the Yale School of Drama no less, but whatever his back ground Aguirre-Sacasa’s Abigail/1702fails on a number of levels.

abigail4.jpg

Jennifer Cannon, Kevin Bailey (Photo by Suzanne Mapes)

First and foremost it betrays Miller’s intention in his work.

In The Crucible there are no witches, no spirits and certainly no devil. Reflecting his own times, when McCarthyism was at its height and the “Red Scare” was ruining lives and turning the country against itself, Miller wanted to show that evil only exists when we allow fear to guide our actions and dull our judgment.

The great influence of the historical trials on the subsequent development of America was in revealing the dangers inherit in allowing religious establishments to control civic government.

This country was founded by religious sects who fled persecution in order that they might enjoy the freedom to practice their religion and the freedom to persecute who they wanted.

Had history taken another route this country could have developed along the lines of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, where a specific religion is soaked into a specific region and the concept of the separation of church and state is held in contempt.

That, fortunately, was not to be the case in this country, for to quote the historian George Lincoln Burr, “…Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered.”

In Abigail/1702 the devil makes an appearance, and in this way Aguirre-Sacasa betrays Burr’s historical fact and Miller’s intent.

It could be argued that the devil doesn’t really appear in Aguirre-Sacasa’s play, that he’s just a figment of Abigail’s guilt lashed imagination. If this is correct then Aguirre-Sacasa must again be faulted for not clarifying this.

Even if these flaws are overlooked, there is still a larger criticism looming over Abigail/1702, which is that it was conceived as a gimmick play, and never rose above that level.

* * *

Abigail/1702 plays Saturday, May 23 @ 8pm
and Sunday May 24, 2015 @ 2pm
INTERNATIONAL CITY THEATRE
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
300 East Ocean Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90802

Phone for information: 562-436-4610
or  go to: www.InternationalCityTheatre.org

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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, Among the Vipers was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist three times in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest's stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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