Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Paul"

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entire contents copyright 2011 by Tony Annicone

"Paul"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Gamm Theatre's current show is the North American premiere of "Paul", British playwright Howard Brenton's powerful and provocative play exploring the extraordinary phenomenon of faith. Brenton's secular dramatization is of the famous conversion of Saul of Tarsus to Saint Paul and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The road to Damascus, A.D. 34, Saul has built a fierce reputation snuffing out the followers of a growing religious sect. So when its recently crucified leader, Jesus, appears to him in a flash of light, Saul does an about-face, changing his name to Paul and devoting his life to spreading the good news. But what if Paul's vision were the result of an epileptic fit or a well-meaning hoax? The show played to critical acclaim as well as controversy in its original debut at London's National Theatre in 2005. "Paul" is a powerfully relevant play for today as it looks back at the roots of Christianity and asks where and how did it all begin and why do men need to create gods at all?" The show takes place at the end of Paul's life and is a series of flashbacks as he sits in prison with Peter, accused of sedition. When the emperor Nero comes to visit them in prison is when the audience observes Paul's true conversion. Director Tony Estrella casts his leads beautifully, mixing the dramatic and comic moments together, creating a thought provoking show for audiences, winning them a standing ovation at the close of the show.

Tony blocks the show excellently and obtains topnotch performances from his 10 member cast.Tony says "And why is this age of reason do we need the supernatural to think something is spiritually sound? Brenton's show is provocative and he tells his story in flashbacks because as the show opens in 65A.D. Paul and Peter have been imprisoned by Nero( Kelby Akin appears as the crazed emperor in the final scene, delivering a marvelous performance as this malevolent and looking like a Roman statue carved in granite while he's is caked in white makeup from head to toe) They are awaiting their death sentences the next day. Alexander Platt as Paul, is brilliant in this role. He commands the stage with his charismatic acting and delivers a tour-de-force performance, never leaving the stage during the show. The character of Paul rails against the baby killers before his conversion to his men and becomes passionate about Christianity after it. He preaches from St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians which is one the strongest parts of this show. The sermon that love is eternal and is everlasting rings through to current times. Jim O'Brien as Peter and Alexander have a stunning closing scene when Paul tells Peter to repeat after him that Christ is Risen over and over again. Jim is terrific in this show and this scene is their crowning moment. Peter confesses the Damascus incident was a hoax but Paul convinces him that they must believe in Jesus as his Apostles. Another powerful performer is Anthony Goes as Barnabas who witnesses Paul's conversion at Damascus. He is dynamic as his character argues with Paul and then becomes a Christian through him three years later. (I cast Anthony in a murder mystery, "Murder on the Santa Fe Trail" back in 2007 and hadn't seen him since then.)

Other performers include Marc Mancini as James, the brother of Jesus who protects him and has a strong scene, showing his anger at Paul. Karen Carpenter as Mary Magdalene who isn't fond of the Christians in this show, makes fun of Jesus' rich parents. Cedric Lilly as Jesus appears sporadically during the show as this enigmatic character. Ben Gracia is comic as an Arabian merchant who buys a tent from Paul. So for an intriguing new play, be sure to catch "Paul" at Gamm Theatre.

"Paul" (17 March - 17 April)
GAMM THEATRE
@ 172 Exchange Street, PAWTUCKET RI
1(401)723-4266

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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