H.L. Mencken famously defined Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” In 1953, that someone arguably wasn’t Arthur Miller, who seized on the Salem witch trials as an allegorical representation of McCarthyism in The Crucible.
Sixty years later, playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa aims to provide a corrective in Abigail/1702, his 2013 sequel that recasts The Crucible’s malicious femme fatale, Abigail Williams (an earnest Jennifer Cannon), as the unlikely heroine of a quasi-supernatural tale about the redemptive power of romantic love.
It is 1702 and a decade after John Proctor and 19 others went to the gallows on Abigail’s perjury. She is now a practitioner of natural medicine who hides under an assumed name on the outskirts of Boston — skilled at caring for the sick but unable to heal her stricken conscience. Hope arrives in the form of John Brown (Ross Hellwig), a dashing sailor afflicted by the city’s latest smallpox outbreak. But before Abigail and John can begin life anew, Lucifer (the fine Kevin Bailey) turns up to make good on an old blood pact.
Ultimately neither Cannon nor director caryn desai’s handsome staging (on Christopher Scott Murillo’s abstract forest set) are quite able to sell Abigail/1702’s anachronistic portrait of self-realization and feminist empowerment. A New England Puritan would hardly require a visit from the devil to remind her that the doctrine of predestination precludes a happy ending, and Miller had Abigail end her days as a prostitute. In Aguirre-Sacasa’s revisionist fantasy, Abigail is allowed to have her beefcake and eat it too.
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International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Centre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; through May 24. (562) 436-4610, internationalcitytheatre.org.
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