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The Gamm’s “Morality Play” A Raucous, Roiling Time of Murder and Madness

Published
Written by artistic director Tony Estrella, from the award-winning novel by British expatriate Barry Unsworth, “Morality Play” sweeps through a raucous...

Richard Donelly as Idiot Beggar, Tony Estrella as Martin Bell in

Written by artistic director Tony Estrella, from the award-winning novel by British expatriate Barry Unsworth, “Morality Play” sweeps through a raucous, roiling time of murder and madness, of corruption, of just plain hard times.  It's a tidal wave of provocation and problems. Change is good? Sometimes. And sometimes it's not.

All of this displacement calls for something different, of course, and the ever-resourceful Gamm has changed much. The audience for “Morality Play” sits on all four sides of the stage. Some are up high, peering down. Others have little boxes of privilege. Almost all are greeted as they enter by the actors in haystack costumes.

“How ya doin'” one flowing robe dressed actor said to a startled women in front of me.

On a set distinguished by heavy wooden boards that are sometimes moved to reveal things you might not want to know, the world turns into a furious, fearsome cavalcade of corruption, of disease, of struggle.

Author Unsworth preferred to write about the past. He said it gave him and his ideas more freedom. But, truly, in “Morality Play” he's hit upon many 14th century things that are being blogged and tweeted every day these days.

A young boy has been murdered. A woman has been arrested and charged. The court, the leadership, is frustrated but always willing to plunge ahead, to see “justice” done whether honest or not. Wickedness is common. A touring theater troupe gets involved, more than they wanted to, more that they ought to have.

Estrella's re-write for the stage has gone all out including flashy direction by Trinity Rep's Tyler Dobrowsky. The 16 member cast flows from all corners, from above, from below. The action of the text is emphasized by continuous scene changes, constant moments of excitement, fear, of the world all too much around us.Hear news director Catherine Welch and theater critic Bill Gale share their thoughts on "Morality Play."

The problem here is that there seems too much going on, too many ideas thrown out, but not clearly. The first act, particularly, is a whirlwind of confusion. Exciting, very well done, yes. Clear and easy to appraise? No.

Act two is better. It has crispness amid all the drive. The idea of the world being very different in Century 14 and also very much the same, begins to show through. Thank goodness.

The cast continues to shine. Fittingly enough, Estrella plays the theater's artistic leader and he nicely captures the joy and the joylessness of leading a troupe of thespians. A newcomer from the Boston area, Jesse Hinson, plays a fallen priest with power and pride. Casey Seymour Kim is splendid as a hanger-on who knows when she must take a chance and to hell with morality.

Richard Donelly is splendidly strong as both an “Idiot Beggar” and the King's Justice. Jim O'Brien and Steve Kidd add high level work.

So, if you take in “Morality Play” know that while you probably will not “get” every moment, every hard-firing meaningful notion, you will take your place in a resounding look at the world, then and now, for better or for worse.

Want to Go?

Morality Play” continues at The Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket through February 1st. 

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The Gamm’s “Morality Play” A Raucous, Roiling Time of Murder and Madness
The Gamm’s “Morality Play” A Raucous, Roiling Time of Murder and Madness