Haunted by guilt — and maybe ghosts — in Merrimack Rep’s ‘Abigail/1702’
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s “Abigail/1702” isn’t a new telling of the Salem witch trials. Instead, he imagines what happened afterward.
“Roberto is clear that he was inspired by Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible,’ ” says Tlaloc Rivas, who is directing “Abigail/1702” at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell through Nov. 6. “But while Miller was focused on an allegory for McCarthyism, Roberto was fascinated with the idea of what happened to Abigail Williams, the woman whose accusations led to the deaths of 20 people.”
The play follows Abigail to Boston, where she has been working for 10 years under an assumed name as a healer in a house that cares mostly for sick sailors. While she has tried to run away from the events in Salem, she is haunted by grief and guilt.
“I was a student of American history,” says Rivas, “and so I was drawn to this story because the witch trials are a vital part of New England history. What’s interesting is this woman disappears from the records after the trial, and it makes you think about the role of women in society. This play is an effort to reclaim Abigail’s narrative.”
Abigail, says Rivas, is ultimately trying to find redemption, while confronting that fear of the past coming back to haunt her.
Aguirre-Sacasa, who has written for “Glee” and “Supergirl,” wrote the book for the musical “American Psycho” and co-wrote the book for “Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark” while serving as chief creative officer of Archie Comics. Boston’s Zeitgeist Stage Company produced his “Say You Love Satan” in 2005, and many of his scripts work in supernatural elements and Gothic melodrama.
“There are elements of a ghost story in this,” says Rivas. “But it’s really about how the devil manifests himself in our daily lives.”
Rivas says the production doesn’t rely on supernatural special effects.
“Roberto and I agree on the less-is-more approach,” Rivas says. “We’re not out to horrify; we’re interested in creating suspense and letting the audience’s imagination fuel the terror. To me, there’s nothing scarier than a creaky door, or nocturnal sounds that create a sense of dread.”
The audience as props
In the paranormal thriller “The Gypsy Machine,” by Meghan Brown, all the action takes place in an apartment filled with creepy mannequins. That close setting makes the play perfect for Theatre on Fire’s “Home Invasion” series, which places the production in different private homes in and around Boston.
“All of the mannequins are played by audience members,” says Darren Evans, Theater on Fire artistic director and director of “The Gypsy Machine.” “It creates a permeable fourth wall for the actors and allows them to acknowledge the people sitting close to them.”
The story follows Molly, whose sister Natalie disappeared a year before. Molly and her boyfriend, Graham, who calls himself a psychic, return to the last place Natalie was seen, and strange things begin to happen.
“This play has the classic elements of a thriller,” says Evans, “and it keeps the audience guessing not only about what happened to Natalie, but what’s really going on.”
Audience members are playing only mannequins — no need to fear any further participation — but Evans says a performance in someone’s living room comes with a built-in intimacy.
“There’s a wonderful opportunity to go off stage but still be heard,” he says. “You can duck into another room, but still keep the conversation going. That helps to draw the audience into the world.”
Evans says just by putting a call out on Facebook and the theater company’s e-mail list, he’s gotten lots of people offering to open their homes. He likes to be able to fit about 15 to 20 people at each performance, and he tries to make sure the homes and apartments are accessible to public transportation.
“I think people enjoy the simplicity and the intimacy,” he says. “And it’s fun.”
Tickets are $25 at www.theatreonfire.org. Addresses and information about parking and the nearest T stop will be provided upon purchase.
Puppets explain white privilege
“White Like Me: A Honky Dory Puppet Show” features award-winning puppeteer, performance artist, and humorist Paul Zaloom manipulating a wild assortment of toy cars, action figures, dolls, wind-up toys, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam to tell the story of how the white man ruled the world, until he became a minority. Zaloom, best known for his six-year stint as the wacky scientist who explained everything on TV’s “Beakman’s World,” employs his twisted sense of humor, and an old-school ventriloquist’s dummy, to explore the idea of white privilege in this wonderfully wacky show, created by Lynn Jeffries. Presented by the Puppet Showplace Theater, at Tower Auditorium, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, Oct. 21-22. Tickets: $15-$25, 617-731-6400, www.puppetshowplace.org.
Presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre, at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, Lowell, through Nov. 6. Tickets: $26-$71, 978-654-4678, www.mrt.org