29th Street co-artistic director David Mogentale will play Abbott, the murderer and writer whose cause was championed by novelist Norman Mailer.
When the two men began corresponding in the late '70s, Abbott had spent much of his life in reformatories and prisons for crimes ranging from writing bad checks to bank robbery to the stabbing death of a fellow inmate. Mailer got some of Abbott's letters published in the New York Review of Books. This led to the 1982 publication of Abbott's first book, "In the Belly of the Beast."
Mailer campaigned that Abbott be granted parole, promising the felon work. Abbott was transferred to a New York halfway house in June 1981. A sensation of the time, he appeared on "Good Morning, America" and attended literary soirees. His moment didn't last, however. Six weeks after coming to New York, Abbott stabbed to death a waiter in a Second Avenue East Village restaurant. He received 15 years to life. Abbott wrote a second book, "My Return," in 1987. He hung himself on Feb. 10, 2002, at the age of 58.
In the Belly of the Beast had premieres in New York and Chicago in the mid-1980s. (The Chicago production made a star of William L. Peterson, now the star of "CSI.") Abbott's death prompted Hall to reexamine the text, which is based on Abbott's books, as well as court records and new accounts.
Leo Farley directs the show. Also in the cast are Heidi James and James E. Smith.