Photo credit by Doug Catiller
Written by Daniella Litvak
“I am a lighthouse keeper, and I live alone. I will walk these steps and work these hands to the bone polishing the glass, polishing the glass.” 
Who is Abigail Burgess? She was born in Rockland, Maine, in 1839. When she was a teenager, her father accepted a position as the lighthouse keeper for Matinicus Rock – “a ‘bare, rocky islet about a half a mile long and of irregular width, nowhere exceeding an eighth of a mile, and the highest part is not more than 50 feet above the sea level.” Abbie, her father, mother, brother, and three of her younger sisters move from Rockland to Matinicus – leaving behind family, friends, and community – hoping lighthouse keeping will provide a better future.
First, they’ll need to survive living on desolate Matinicus, which gets increasingly harder as supplies dwindle and the waters turn choppy. It is up to Abby to keep her family together, to keep the lighthouse lights burning, and to brave the storm. Abbie’s heroism in the face of the storm has inspired books, music, and a radio drama. The U.S. Coast Guard named a 175’ Kee-Class buoy tender in her honor. Now her story has come to the Chance Theater.
Matinicus: The Story Of Abigail Burgess (hereinafter referred to as “Matinicus“) only features one actress, but it took a collaboration of talented people to make Abbie’s story work as a play.
The decision to make this a one-woman show is fitting, given the themes of isolation and self-reliance, but it could have backfired horribly if executed poorly. Extended monologuing can get wearying fast. There is also the risk of the play running afoul of the “show, don’t tell” rule. Fortunately, Matinicus avoids these traps. One, Abbie (OCTG Theatre Award-nominated actress Aubrey Saverino), is likable right off the bat. The first two things we learn about Abigail her spunk and how protective she is of her family. The play does a good job of showing she is both a lady of her time and ahead of her time. Though she lived long before the term “teenager” was coined – she’s as relatable as any modern teenage protagonist. Second, even when the story is at its darkest, most harrowing, the play finds moments for humor.
Saverino’s performance and Katie Chidester’s direction are terrific. Saverino keeps you engaged the entire run time (85 minutes without intermission). She grasps all of Abbie’s nuances – from her worries about her ailing mother to her boredom with life on Matinicus Rock. There are times when Saverino has to assume the persona of Abbie’s brother or whoever else Abbie is speaking to at the moment, and she does a good job of distinguishing each character.
Appropriate for the character, Abbie is constantly moving throughout the play. Even though the set does not change (barring some props moving and the lighting changes), the stage always feels dynamic, and the space is used well. The set design is simple but effective: a wooden floor, a trunk, a chair, a spiral staircase, and a cloudy backdrop.
There are a lot of ways to learn about the heroism of Abigail Burgess, but your first stop should be at the Chance Theater.
 “Lighthouse Keeper” by Neptune’s Car
 Information about Abigail Burgess and Matincus Rock comes from the program.