Last month, I saw “Clybourne Park,” Bruce Norris’ clever treatment of characters and situations from Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 “A Raisin in the Sun.”
On Sunday, I saw Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's "Abigail/1702," an imaginative elaboration of the events in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." The afternoon was both theatrically and intellectually satisfying.
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Road, Latham
WHEN: Through Nov. 16
HOW MUCH: $23
MORE INFO: 877-7529,
Does it help to know “The Crucible”? You bet. But Aguirre-Sacasa has a generally deft way — narration, flashbacks — of providing elements from the back story to help those unfamiliar with Miller’s tale of the witchcraft hysteria in Salem in 1692 feel connected to this play.
At the end of “The Crucible,” Abigail Williams (Elizabeth Pietrangelo), the teenage “villainess,” high-tails it out of Salem after consorting with a married man and, to save her skin from the Puritan scolds, naming names of villagers whom others believe are in league with the devil. From her testimony, 20 are hanged, including her paramour, John Proctor.
At the beginning of “Abigail/1702,” we find Abigail in her 20s in Boston, courageously running a refuge for those afflicted with smallpox.
The two-act play is an exploration of guilt and redemption, and Abigail (now known as Ruth Meadows to hide her past) is spiritually tested again and again: by an attractive patient, John Brown (John Schmiederer); a 10-year-old ward, Thomas (Henry Sinnott); Elizabeth, Proctor’s widow (Carrie Weiss); and the Man in Gray, Satan himself (John Noble).
The technical values at Curtain Call are usually of the highest caliber; so they are here. Will Lowry’s stark set and Denise Massman’s muted costumes are aptly paired to evoke a time when life was cheap and decoration was frowned upon. The beautifully detailed lighting design of Lily Fossner and sound palette of Bradley C. Porter create a sensory environment where the natural world and the civilized world still overlap, sometimes uneasily.
Director Steve Fletcher has made sure that the pace of this episodic piece never flags and that the performers handle the tricky grammatical constructions with ease. Sinnott makes Thomas a properly sweet child, one any mother might love. Weiss subtly calibrates all of the widow Proctor’s emotions in a stunning scene with Pietrangelo in Act 2, the most moving of the play. Schmiederer ably conveys Brown’s burgeoning interest in Ruth, and makes us believe that she might let down her guard and fall in love with him.
The redoubtable Noble plays three roles. His Beelzebub, the old serpent, is smarmy and terrifying, and when he comes for Abigail’s soul, Sunday’s audience didn’t move or snicker.
Pietrangelo has a firm command of Abigail, an enormous part that she fully inhabits. Indeed, we’re deeply interested in this young woman’s destiny. I found her vocal delivery, however, to be monochromatic. A grim sameness characterizes her inflections, and while one might argue that Abigail has to be suspicious and tough, the hard edge in Pietrangelo’s voice robs Abigail of an emotional arc — one I know this fine actress is capable of creating.
Near the beginning of Act 2, Abigail says about her involvement with John Brown: “All it takes is one gossipy tongue and I am ruined.” How ironic, because it was her gossipy tongue that condemned 20 to the gallows. And it’s that ironic sense of the events that makes this play intriguing.