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STUNNING Steve Kidd and Jeanine Kane in Gamm’s A Doll’s House.
This has been a good year for theater around here, from the reprise of a "Were you there when . . .?" rendition of a Shakespeare classic to a sprinkling of notable original productions.

We have been given a tongue-in-cheek treatise on why torture is wrong and an examination of an entire country's torture by the eponymous sadist Marquis de Sade and his ilk. Comedies have been sparse but certainly not absent, from French farces (a double bill at 2nd Story Theatre) to an Italian one (Dario Fo's We Won't Pay!, by the Wilbury Group) to a farcical musical (Lucky Stiff, at Roger Williams University).

Trinity Repertory Company tickled our funny bones with usually serious playwright John Guare's adaptation of the screwball comedy HIS GIRL FRIDAY, directed with countless clever touches by Curt Columbus. Turning serious, the troupe also delved deeply into Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE, the Salem witch trial allegory about McCarthyite politics, directed with unflinching impact by Brian McEleney. (Their farm team, the Brown/Trinity MFA students, recently staged a superb production of the musical PARADE, directed by Talya Klein, reminding us that good theater will continue onward.)

Our second Actors Equity theater company, the Sandra-Feinstein Gamm Theatre, also did exemplary work this year. Foremost, of course, was Tony Estrella's long-awaited re-staging of his 1997 HAMLET, again directed with attentive precision by Fred Sullivan, Jr. The latter also helmed a powerhouse adaptation (by Estrella) of Ibsen's A DOLL'S HOUSE at the Gamm, with Jeanine Kane in the main role, resetting the play in the 1950s of American propriety. For a venerable drama that regular theatergoers have probably seen numerous times, this production was a stunning refresher course on both the play and the ability of theater to imagine anew.

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SOCIAL MISFIT Amber Kelly and Kevin Broccoli in 2nd Story’s Nuts.

One can't bring up Trinity Rep and the Gamm without next mentioning Ed Shea's 2nd Story Theatre. It's been a prolific season, with success after success. Two of them struck me as being a sort of yin/yang matched set. Gina Gionfriddo's BECKY SHAW was an updated takeoff on William Thackery's self-centered Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair. Set in Providence, it had a Brown student title character, played with charming bravura by Hillary Parker, constantly unsettled by self-doubt. The contrasting play was an existential one: NUTS, by Tom Torpor, directed with careful craft by Mark Peckham. Amber Kelly played Claudia Draper, a big-city call girl facing a manslaughter charge for killing a client. No self-doubt here, as the main character tried to ward off mental institution imprisonment by claiming her right to remain a social misfit.

Amber Kelly is not only a good actor, she's an ambitious producer and director with her Theater of Thought, which has staged several site-specific dramatic works around the state in recent years. The latest was EXECUTOR, an interesting adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's novella The Call of Cthulhu. Since Providence came into the tale, "audience" members were asked to meet in small groups, where they were sent to various locations to discover and participate in the story. "A" for effort and ingenuity, by all means, though making a game of it had the ironic consequence of removing us emotionally — no leaping up startled at the wind-rustle of a window pane, as we might when immersed in the pages (or in the dark confines of a theater).

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