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‘Abigail/1702′: A 2016 hit

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the writer of “Abigail/1702,” was a co-producer and writer on the 2011 series “Glee.”(Photo courtesy of Merrimack Repository Theater)

Jacob Boucher
Connector Staff

The past few weeks leading up to Halloween, UMass Lowell students had the unique opportunity to see the Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s (MRT) most recent production: “Abigail/1702.”

Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and directed by Tlaloc Rivas, this play is set in the early eighteenth century and follows the life and times of Abigail Williams. Historically, Abigail Williams was a young girl who accused six people during the infamous Salem, Mass. Witch Trials, and not long thereafter disappeared from the historical record. Aguirre-Sacasa picks up where the record leaves off, following Abigail’s life post-Salem, Mass. and how she has chosen to cope with the consequences of that fateful day.

Everything from the audio to the set design to the acting was near perfect in this production. The audio is crisp throughout the theater and lends itself to the unsettling atmosphere perfectly. The lighting was not entirely perfect throughout, but when they needed a scene to be lit for dramatic effect, with colors projected clearly and shadows cast in just the right way for a truly frightening set-up, the MRT delivered in spades. One scene in particular, which involved the introduction of a very essential, very intimidating character, was perfectly executed.

Becky Warren, a season ticket holder of eight years at the MRT, said, “The set design was amazing as it easily allowed the audience to be transformed into the time period.” And indeed, the set design is one of this production’s absolute triumphs. While the set mostly remains static for the majority of the play, it can also transform into anything from the woods of Salem, Mass. to the city thanks to the brilliant lighting, audio and script writing. Even with beds and fireplaces in the background, you are instantly transported to wherever the play wants you to be for that scene. In this regard the play truly excels.

The actors themselves were professional, passionate and gave the performance their all. Rachel Napoleon, the actress that plays Abigail, really brings the play together thanks to her consistently clear delivery, which was impressive for a role that required her to speak very quickly. Mark Kincaid, who plays three characters in the production, was also especially good in his roles. While you knew the same actor was onstage, the three characters ultimately shined through and it did not detract from the performance in any way. Through dramatic and subtle scenes both, viewers never feel as though anyone on stage is acting because the roles feel so naturally assumed.

The Salem, Mass. Witch Trials, to this day and in New England especially, continue to capture the imaginations of artists and authors. There are shows like “Salem” or plays like “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller. In “Abigail, 1702” specifically, “The questions he posed in terms of guilt, forgiveness, redemption, and community were ones that were important to that colonial New England world, and continue to resonate with audiences today,” said Dr. Melissa Pennell from the English Department at UMass Lowell. “The playwright brought our present-day values to bear, and yet did so in a way that didn’t seem jarring in light of the characters and their conflicts.”

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