Abigail was one of the bad girls in The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s wrenching play about the Salem witch trails; in the “ten years later” coda to the play, Miller wrote that Abigail went to Boston and became a harlot. That suggestion of the girl’s-post-witch-hunt life so fascinated playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa that he couldn’t resist writing a play about it.
The result is Abigail/1702, which tells the story of a girl haunted by her past and forced to atone for her role in a dark chapter of Salem’s history, after she is confronted by a mysterious figure. “Some of the language feels contemporary. The play wrestles with what it means to be an independent woman in that period,” said New York Stage and Film (NYSF) artistic director Johanna Pfaelzer. The play will be performed at Vassar’s Powerhouse Theater on June 27 through July 8.
Aguirre-Sacasa knows something of female psychology, having co-written the script for Big Love, the HBO series about a polygamist Mormon and his wives. He also wrote the script for Glee. Chloe Sevigny, who played one of the wives on Big Love, stars as Abigail. (“I’m sure her voice was in his head as he was creating this character,” speculated Pfaelzer.) The stellar cast also features Patrick Heusinger, Paxton Whitehead and Laila Robins, along with Lucas Pfeifer, a fourth-grader from Millbrook.
The Powerhouse Theater, a collaboration of Vassar College and NYSF, is built around an intensive eight-week residency program that kills two birds with one stone: Students get to observe and train with seasoned professionals (plus have a shot at getting cast in one of the plays), and playwrights get to test out a full production of a new play away from the commercial pressures of New York City. There’s a “tremendous value for writers in watching how the audiences respond” without that pressure, noted Pfaelzer. It’s a formula that has worked: Many of the plays incubated at the Powerhouse later found great commercial and critical success. (They include John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, and Jay Presson Allen’s Tru, which won a Tony.) Each is a work in progress: Abigail/1702, for example, was first presented at a reading in February.
Director David Esbjornson, who has directed The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? and other plays by Edward Albee, brings unique insight into Miller’s impulses, having worked closely with Miller at one time, according to Pfaelzer. Actor Laila Robins also has a connection to Miller, having acted in Miller’s play Resurrection Blues under Esbjornson’s direction, she added.
Tickets cost $35. There will be a discussion with the artists after the performances on July 3 and July 7. Abigail/1702 will be followed by Stephen Belber’s The Power of Duff, directed by Peter DuBois, from July 19 through 29. For a subscription and tickets, visit www.powerhouse.vassar.edu or call (845) 437-5599.