The drama kicks off Boston Playwrights’ Theatre new season, running through this weekend, to Oct. 19. Although Girard’s play at times stretches our imagination, she also skillfully explores a local historic mystery and tacks on a modern-day terror that’s creating international furor- the escalation of fanatical terrorist murders and violence, especially targeting journalists.
Girard, who recently completed her MFA in playwrighting at BU and developed her play as a returning fellow at New Repertory Theatre in Watertown,has created a provocative, feminist two-act play. It could use some tweaking, but holds theatergoers’ attention nevertheless.
Oliva traverses three well-situated spaces on Anthony Phelps’ set, as she transitions through time and place. She changes from Haverhill Puritan Hannah Dustin, (who was kidnapped in 1697 by an Abenaki raiding party, with her nurse Mary and infant daughter, and forced to traipse through the wilderness), and contemporary grieving, recently-widowed, Boston writer, Hanna. Aided by Karen Perlow’s lighting, Oliva skillfully slips in and out of Puritan garb on stage to contemporary leisure wear. Later in the play, the two women’s personae meld into one.
Hanna is stressed, implacable. Her husband, a well-known journalist, received a death threat concerning his probing work into drug cartels, and was executed. Hanna has holed up in her home and inside herself. However, her kindly, lowkey editor, Matt (affable, versatile Barlow Adamson) visits Hanna, gently prodding her into writing a story about the little-known Puritan local mystery, Hannah Dustin. She’s piqued by Hannah’s extraordinarily brave escape from the Abenakis, her murderous, vengeful rampage of her captors - men, women and children - presumably with a tomahawk, then her return to their camp to scalp them all as proof of her capture and escape.
In the meantime, Matt helps fend off a growing media frenzy pushing to interview Hanna on TV, in the newspapers and radio. Her husband is being honored posthumously with a prestigious award.
Hanna’s glamorous, best friend, Joanna, (Caroline Lawton), who was working with Hanna’s husband at the time of his death, makes several attempts to visit Hanna, but she’s angrily rebuffed.
Girard also traces and offers insight into Hannah and Mary’s (Kippy Goldfarb) capture, the Abenakis’ murder of Hannah’s baby, the women’s trek and their differences in trusting their captors, to their survival, including Hannah’s sudden violent survival streak, leading to their return home and Hannah’s attempt to rejoin her church several years later.
Our contemporary Hanna is coping with her own tribulations, besides her husband’s death - her untold capture and mistreatment while covering a story to improve women’s rights in Afghanistan, and a few more shocking surprises that explain her agonizing behavior.
Director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary has proven again that she works miracles in small spaces, with a small, talented cast and crew. Despite the awkward space constraints, especially during characters’ transitions, O’Leary doesn’t allow any lapse time.
Girard’s play may have a few flaws, but her subject is timely, provocative, and generates lively exit conversation that lingers, right through the next onslaught of unsettling nightly newscasts.
BOX INFO: Two-act,110-minute drama by Deirdre Girard, appearing through Oct. 19, at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Comm. Ave., Boston. Performances: Thursday, Oct. 16, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, Oct. 17,18, at 8 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 19, at 2 p.m. Tickets:$30; Boston University faculty, staff, and seniors, $25; students with valid IDs, $10. Call 866-811-4111.