Theater review: With ‘Abigail/1702,’ Aurora revisits ‘The Crucible’

The Aurora Theatre drama “Abigail/1702,” a sequel to “The Crucible,” stars Diany Rodriguez. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS BARTELSKI

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The Aurora Theatre drama “Abigail/1702,” a sequel to “The Crucible,” stars Diany Rodriguez. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS BARTELSKI

Readers don't really need a critic to point out that most sequels are seldom as rewarding as the original versions on which they're based. And so it goes with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's "Abigail/1702," which dares to invite comparison to Arthur Miller's classic "The Crucible." Even if that old Miller play hadn't been produced so recently (or to such scintillating effect) at Actor's Express earlier in the year, this new Aurora Theatre staging mainly pales by association.

In chronicling the Salem witch hunts of the 1690s, Miller wore his emotions on his sleeve, basically giving his characters — both the accusers and the accused — free rein to express and defend themselves in a dramatic courtroom setting. In “1702,” Aguirre-Sacasa resumes the story some 10 years later, conversely depicting the internalized spiritual and psychological turmoil and guilt of Abigail Williams, the chief instigator of all the conflict in “The Crucible.”

The esteemed Justin Anderson directs the production with moody atmosphere to spare. Set around an isolated cabin in the barren woods outside Boston (take another well-deserved bow, scenic designers Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay), where the air is frequently thick with ominous mist and fog, the show is starkly lit (by Ben Rawson) and heavy with the sounds (by Marc Gwinn) of eerie echoing voices or howling wolves, albeit occasionally too heavy on the choral "oohs" and "aahs."

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Lee Osorio and Diany Rodriguez appear in the drama “Abigail/1702” at Aurora Theatre. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS BARTELSKI

Lee Osorio and Diany Rodriguez appear in the drama “Abigail/1702” at Aurora Theatre. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS BARTELSKI

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Lee Osorio and Diany Rodriguez appear in the drama “Abigail/1702” at Aurora Theatre. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS BARTELSKI

Diany Rodriguez stars as Abigail. Having assumed a new name, Ruth Meadow, she mostly keeps to herself and minds her own business, which primarily entails struggling with her inner demons from the past. But she discovers a kindred spirit of sorts in John Brown (Lee Osorio), a sickly sailor who crosses her path.

While she tends to his physical wounds, she soon finds in him another scarred soul. They eventually realize a mutual need for redemption, to make amends and otherwise “correct” the errors of their lives. Is his ailment a form of “being punished for (his) wicked ways,” or has she happened upon him as a “test put before (her) by God”?

A familiarity with “The Crucible” adds a definite dimension to Aguirre-Sacasa’s sequel, although it isn’t necessarily mandatory. There are fleeting mentions of a couple of characters from the Miller play (Tituba, Mary Warren) — even a passing reference to his famous line about “getting to the bottom of this swamp” — and one of them makes an actual appearance, the scorned farmer’s wife Elizabeth Proctor (played by Olivia D. Dawson, among other smaller roles). A young orphan boy (Joshua Pagan) also figures into that earlier back story.

(Just a random thought here: Given Aurora's considerable success of late co-producing a few musicals with Theatrical Outfit, it might have been all the more intriguing had Aurora and the Express somehow collaborated on their respective companion pieces, maybe performing them in rotating repertory?)

Where “Abigail/1702” finally goes awry and turns fatally overwrought is in outwardly manifesting those demons plaguing our heroine, as she essentially “dances with the devil” (Peter Hardy) in a protracted sequence that’s akin to something out of “The Exorcist” — or worse, perhaps, an “Exorcist” sequel.

THEATER REVIEW

“Abigail/1702”

Through Oct. 15. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; 10 a.m. Tuesday (Oct. 3 only). $20-$55. Aurora Theatre, 128 E. Pike St., Lawrenceville. 678-226-6222, www.auroratheatre.com.

Bottom line: Murky.

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