Theatre Review

Gamm’s ‘JQA’ makes history fun and relevant

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“What is government?” John Adams asks his young son in the opening scene of “JQA,” Aaron Posner’s new play that makes American history much more fun and relevant than most high school history classes. Posner has created one gem of a play, so perfectly structured that the audience has no trouble figuring out his brilliant portrayals of historical figures by the four incredibly talented cast members.

Turning to the program before the lights go down on this brilliant play, I’m overwhelmed by the number of characters the actors play. And then I notice that they play some of the same people, including the title character, John Quincy Adams.

Beginning in 1776, when JQA’s father was president, and taking us through historical events and characters up to 1849, when Adams meets an up-and-coming junior congressman named Abraham Lincoln, “JQA” will hold you spellbound for over 90 nonstop minutes.

Scene transitions are smooth and easy to follow as the year and scene are simply explained by one of the characters, and Meg Donnelly’s costumes identify the gender/race neutral characters.

The play is a fictional look at how the historical figures and their families may have interacted, presented with humor, passion and controversy, as each in their own way try to find the best way to govern and to “move the country forward.”

The obvious comparison to what is happening in our government today is presented very subtly, without going for the cheap shot. That’s great writing!

Director Tony Estrella and Associate Director Tyler Dobrowsky have the advantage of four talented actors who have the ability to play a total of 13 characters without any confusion on our part or theirs. My biggest surprise was Normand Beauregard, who I had always connected to his talents as fight master and stunt coordinator. He was absolutely brilliant switching from father to son to a contentious Henry Clay.

Candice Brown, an equity actor with Boston and NYC credits, makes her debut as Abigail and Louisa Adams, in addition to playing JQA and a stately George Washington. Her final scene with Beauregard is a classic.

Local actress and RIC graduate Helena Tafuri has her best moment as Abraham Lincoln, in a scene with Candice Brown as JQA that defies gender and makes you believe that these are two men in deep discussion over the future of our country.

Jonathan Higginbotham, a distinguished Shakespearean actor with a Yale degree, makes his debut, playing JQA, a vulgar, prejudiced Andrew Jackson, and a stately, determined Frederick Douglas.

Of all the great theatre Gamm has given us over the years, “JQA” ranks near the top. It will amuse you. It will educate you. It will move you. And you will leave the theatre wanting to do good and do more. By removing a handful of four-letter words, it would be an important play for every junior high or high school history class.

“JQA” will be at Warwick’s Gamm Theatre through November 17. Tickets are $45-$65. Call 723-4266.

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