Live theater returns to The Gamm in September after 17-month COVID closure

Gamm Theatre becomes the first major area company to reopen with live performances when its 37th season kicks off Sept. 27.

It will have been 17 months without a live show when “A Lie Agreed Upon,” artistic Director Tony Estrella’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People,” opens. The show is evidence, however, that the company was far from idle.

“I’ve been working and playing around with it for a long time,” Estrella says. “The pandemic became a time to refocus. I had my first draft done last summer.”

Ibsen’s tale — recast by Arthur Miller in the mid-20th century and staged by The Gamm in the early 2000s — centers on a doctor running a Midwestern spa beckoning tourists with the healing properties of its hot springs. When the springs are found to be poisoned, he struggles to decide what to do.

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“Essentially, it’s ‘Jaws,’” Estrella notes. “There’s a problem — the water is poisoned or a shark offshore — but no one wants to shut things down. It’s also a nod to our own kind of ‘Jaws’ in the public health crisis of the past year.

“It’s a really evergreen topic because it deals with the nature of democracy.”

While Ibsen and Miller had a slightly different focus, Estrella says “A Lie Agreed Upon” “invokes a public health hazard and looks more succinctly at the tyranny of the majority and how we protect minority rights.”

On a lighter note, The Gamm will offer its second in-person (and third overall) production of “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” in November and December. The holiday story of second chances proves perfect for the post-pandemic season, Estrella says.

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“This is not dissimilar from Ibsen,” he says. “It’s about American civic life, how to be part of a community, and the potential of human connection.”

Audiences are brought into the radio studio to witness a live performance of the movie classic as George Bailey and his guardian angel, Clarence, reconnect with the spirit of the season and the strengths of a caring community.

January and February will see a production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “An Octaroon,” which was postponed during the 2020-2021 season. The second Jacobs-Jenkins piece The Gamm has tackled is an Obie Award-winning retelling of a 19th-century melodrama by Dion Boucicault centered on a withering plantation and clashes between the  heir-apparent and evil overseer, intertwined with a love story.

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“Jacobs-Jenkins is fearless,” says Estrella. “He said the theater is a safe place for dangerous ideas, and he will make you laugh, make you cry and shock you all at the same time. This is an astonishing piece of work looking at a painful part of the history of this country through the framework of the quintessential American format, melodrama.”

Jacobs-Jenkins cast himself and Boucicault as playwrights who guide the action of the play, which Estrella describes as “a theatrical explosion” and “powderkeg.” With the country’s current political and social unrest, he says it’s an appropriate time for this story.

Martyna Majok’s “Ironbound” is slated for March and April, echoing the focus on marginalization, this time with immigrants, according to Estrella. The play takes place over 22 years at a New Jersey bus stop, as Majok dissects the heart of Darja, a hardworking Polish immigrant searching for security and love in the same romantic partner.

“Immigrants are another marginalized community, trying to make ends meet in a country that’s not always welcoming to them,” Estrella says. “But, Darja is buoyant, with a wicked sense of humor. It gives us a look at those we would often cast to the sidelines.”

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The company wraps the season in May with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” marking the first Shakespeare production at the company’s Warwick location. Showcasing the Bard’s skill at crafting a play within a play, the piece encourages audiences to contemplate how quickly life can change and, then, change back again.

“It’s like us — waking to a new reality,” Estrella says of the theme.

While fairies in a dreamland may seem light and the play’s ending is hilarious, Estrella says “Midsummer” has serious threads to consider as well.

“It starts with a father threatening to kill his daughter if she doesn’t marry the man he wants her to marry,” he says. “For people who think they’ve seen this so many times, there is always more to experience.”

Subscriptions for Season 36, canceled due to COVID-19, will be honored for this season. New subscriptions are on sale now at gammtheatre.org, and single tickets will be available Aug. 30.


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