By Noelle Salisbury

In a time when Americans eat sectionalism for breakfast, it’s easy to lose faith in the integrity of our great (but complicated) nation. However, some of that faith is being served up at the Gamm Theatre’s production of JQA, which opened Tuesday night. This Aaron Posner play provokes the audience to not only consider government functions of the 19th century, but also how this foundation has affected our current democracy; all through the life of statesman, diplomat, lawyer, former secretary of state, and one-term president John Quincy Adams.

Candice Brown as John Quincy Adams, Jonathan Higginbotham as Frederick Douglass.

John Quincy Adams, affectionately abbreviated as “JQA,” is played by each one of the four actors in the cast. First embodied by a vivacious, youthful portrayal by Helena Tafuri, nine-year-old JQA bounds onto the set with a run. Following this first entrance, the show does not lose energy for the rest of its 90-minute run time, in no small part due to the actors. Each brings their own take to the complex character, a new actor taking on the role as JQA ages: In addition to Tafuri’s take as JQA as the younger man, Jonathan Higginbotham plays the middle-aged politician JQA, Normand Beauregard plays the suffering older JQA, and Candice Brown, finally, plays JQA, the elderly political veteran. The advancing age of John Quincy Adams throughout the play makes the differing approaches of the actors clear and prevents what may have been distracting. In fact, the changes between actors enhanced the overall quality of the show. Additionally, Candice Brown’s performances, together with to her JQA turn, as Abigail Adams and later as her son, John Quincy Adams, were especially poignant due to well-written and well-portrayed parallels. 

Candice Brown as George Washington, Jonathan Higginbotham as Secret Service

As for the costumes, they were simple but complementary to the performances. Before the show began, three brilliant red coats hung from the lighting grid above. All JQA costume changes took place on stage. Another technical aspect complementary to the performances was the set, designed by Michael McGarty. Simple, like the costumes, it mimics the American flag. The presence of the flag-inspired set during the thought-provoking dialogue made the philosophical spin of the play all the more significant.

The most noteworthy takeaway from this historically-based play was its modern significance. Although solely set in the past, the show remains relevant to our current governmental experience. Posner’s excellent writing makes the case that our nation’s struggles and strengths have not changed. The audience is rarely allowed to simply sit back in their seats; JQA is not just a good piece of theatre, but also an engaging piece of theatre.

JQA runs through Nov. 17 at the Gamm Theatre in Warwick. Find more information, click here.

Reviewer Noelle Salisbury is a senior at East Greenwich High School.


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