There is an element of historical pageant in Adriano Shaplin’s heavily researched look at Salem just before it was gripped by witch hunt hysteria, but the playwright also introduces a science-fiction element suggesting that rebellious women face incoherent opposition no matter which time period they might find themselves in.
Director Rebecca Wright sets the mood as soon as the doors to the theater are opened, with the entire cast acting out odd bits of ritualized movement as audience members settle into their seats.
Once again, the large upstairs space at the theater on White St. has been reconfigured so that the playing space is long and wide, allowing the director to create arresting “wide-screen” stage pictures.
The oddest notes in the play are hinted at in this warm-up in which the entire cast is in period attire except for two young women dressed in revealing gym-type wear who talk in a manner that does not suggest Salem 400 years ago.
It turns out that those two women are time travelers from the future, one of whom is determined to change the course of history by interfering with the witchcraft hysteria in Massachusetts.
As one of these women drifts into the past, we are introduced to Salem village life and the various factions that would eventually split over the charges of demonic doings.
Wright keeps the 90-minute, intermissionless story constantly moving, with scenes showing the conflicts between the rich and the poor, the religious and the non-believers coming to a boil.
Meanwhile, the time traveler is absorbed into village life and seems to be powerless to change the course of events. Near the end of the play we learn that the two time traveling women might face the same sort of reprisals from their rulers as the women in Salem were subjected to.
“Sarah Flood in Salem Mass” has a surreal quality throughout — there are passages about the role played by beavers in the village ecology in which much of the company mimes the animal behavior — but the sexual and political conflicts come through loud and clear.
The ensemble work is by The Bats, the resident company at The Flea Theater, and as usual the work of these recent acting school graduates is very impressive. Because they work together so frequently, and are still so passionate about acting, they form a seamless and extraordinarily powerful company.
(“Sarah Flood in Salem Mass” is running through Oct. 26. For performance and ticket information, visit www.theflea.org)