Both new and old classics

Life on the boards
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  September 16, 2009

GOTTA SING, GOTTA DANCE The Gamm is kicking off its 25th season Much Ado About Nothing.

The Gamm certainly has come a long way in the quarter-century leading up to this its 25th anniversary season. The evolution of its name alone is quite a trip. It was called Alias Stage in 1984, when it was founded in an abandoned mill building on the bank of the Woonasquatucket in Providence's Olneyville by seven recent graduates of the Trinity Rep Conservatory. That was changed to the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre in 1998 when philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein bought the naming rights for a reported $100,000.

In 2004 it became only the second Actors Equity theater in the state, alongside Trinity Rep. Nowadays it enjoys the respect of critics from Boston as well as locally, in Pawtucket's decommissioned National Guard Armory. Its annual budget has grown to $1.2 million, which will likely grow along with audience capacity, expanding from 135 to 340 seats after the armory undergoes renovations.

What the Gamm has become is largely due to the skills of Tony Estrella, who began acting there in 1996 and has served as its artistic director since 2002. Estrella, 38, has been seen in occasional roles on TV (Law & Order, Brotherhood) and film (getting punched out by Alec Baldwin in Scorsese's The Departed). But his first love appears to be the Gamm, judging from where he has been putting most of his energy.

Any room for improvement? he was rhetorically asked.

"Yeah," he briskly responded. "The reason I sort of jump on that is that I really have been thinking a lot about that lately. The 25th anniversary has given an occasion to look back and look forward as well, a kind of assessment time. When I look beyond, one of the things I'd like us to do more of is new work.

"Mining for some of that gold is going to be important. Last year with Don Carlos [by Friedrich Schiller] in particular, and this year with the Sarah Kane [4:48 Psychosis], bringing in writers that are worthy and fantastic, who Rhode Island audiences haven't seen anything of."

Despite all their dated chatter about firkins and bodkins, plays by William Shakespeare know no seasonal limit to their popularity. The Gamm is making an extra effort by doing two of them in repertoire: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (through October 4) and ROMEO AND JULIET (October 22-November 15). To lighten the atmosphere, they also are staging a seasonal favorite, David Sedaris's THE SANTALAND DIARIES (December 10-27).

The star-crossed lovers will also pledge their troth with a Providence College production of ROMEO AND JULIET (October 30-November 8). And the Bard begins the Roger Williams University season, with THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (October 9-17). Productions there continue with Sophie Treadwell's MACHINAL (November 13-21), which is based on a 1920s murder trial.

Trinity Repertory Company is kicking off its season with the spirited yet sobering musical CABARET (through October 11), directed by Curt Columbus. With book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander, and lyrics by Fred Ebb, it stars Rachael Warren as Sally Bowles and Joe Wilson, Jr. as the Emcee. Next will be SHOOTING STAR, by Steven Dietz (October 16-November 22), a romantic comedy about a man and a woman who meet again in a snowbound airport 20 years after their relationship ended. Not neglected is the annual Trinity Rep adaptation of Charles Dickens's A CHRISTMAS CAROL (November 20-December 27).

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Related: Best of the Bard, 2009: The year in theater, The Front Page, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Entertainment, John Patrick Shanley, Charles Dickens,  More more >
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