BWW Review: JQA at The Gamm Theatre
When it comes to United States history, it can be easy to gloss over the period between the early 1800s to the cusp of the Civil War. The generation who lived during this forgotten era, however, faced no less tumultuous times than we do in modern times. Aaron Posner's play, JQA, specifically looks at this time period through the eyes of John Quincy Adams, who, as the son of founding father John Adams, and later a statesman in his own right, was uniquely poised to survey the era's ups and downs. Through the use of fictionalized encounters with some of America's most dynamic figures, the political and personal issues raised in JQA are as relevant now as they've ever been.
This production, making its New England premiere at the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre, is smartly helmed by Artistic Director Tony Estrella and Associate Director Tyler Dobrowsky. The cast of four (Normand Beauregard, Candice Brown, Jonathan Higginbotham, and Helena Tafuri), seamlessly take on multiple roles, with each actor taking their turn portraying Adams at different points in his life. This ranges from Tafuri as the timid nine-year old Adams to Brown, as the cantankerous elder on the eve of retirement, providing words of wisdom to a young upstart from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln (also portrayed by Tafuri). Jonathan Higginbotham particularly embodies his myriad roles, including Adams at the prime of his life, wrestling with the challenges of family and then as president, facing the challenges of a fractious country. Higginbotham is also marvelous as a cocky, tobacco-spitting Andrew Jackson, and later in the play as a dignified Frederick Douglass making an impassioned case for the abolishment of slavery. His counterpoint in several of these scenes is Normand Beauregard, who is also excellent in the roles of John Quincy Adams, the elder John Adams, and as one of Adams' antagonists as president, the secretary of state, Henry Clay.
The acting is well-supported by effective technical elements, particularly the costuming designed by Meg Donnelly. Three uniquely styled red coats hang over the set before the play begins, and as we come to learn, each style of coat signifies a different of Adams' life. Every cast member wears a white button down shirt, khaki pants, and brown shoes, but they are able to convey the bevy of different characters, sometimes changing roles from one consecutive scene to the next through the use of different jackets, dresses, and other costume pieces.
Even if one isn't a history buff, JQA is a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece of theatre, exploring the responsibility we owe to both our loved ones and our country. Gamm's production is not to be missed.
JQA runs through November 17th at The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, RI. Tickets are $45, $55, and $65. Call 401-723-4266 or visit gammtheatre.org.
Pictured: Normand Beauregard as John Quincy Adams. Background: Candice Brown as Louisa Adams. Photo credit: Peter Goldberg