by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday December 18, 2017


Head Trick Theatre explores the issue of gender identity in their powerful and stylish production "Gabriel," written by George Sand in 1839 and translated by Gay Smith.

Jules, the Prince of Bramante, has been disappointed in his hopes of having a male heir. His oldest son and wife produced only a girl child before she died. Jules decides to have their child, Gabriel, raised as a boy. She is to be instructed that women are to be subservient to men, so that when, at adolescence, her sex is revealed to her, she will decide to accept the sex instead her grandfather has given her.

When she is told the truth, Gabriel does not abandon her male costume or demeanor, but she does want to make sure that Astolphe, her cousin who should rightfully inherit the family fortune, has all the money he needs. They meet in a bar and fall in love after winding up in prison together after a brawl in a pub. The couple decides to travel together, winding up in Venice for the carnival.

Christine Pavao, who has appeared in several Epic Theatre productions, really comes into her own with her stunning portrayal of Gabriel. Pavao manages to be convincing as a male with her androgynous appearance and reserved demeanor. It is a demanding role due to the faÁade Gabriel has to put up to convince the world she is a man.

"I don't feel that my soul is one sex or the other," Gabriel confesses.

This inner torment underlines every scene in the play, which points out how gender roles have evolved in modern society.

When Gabriel changes into a flowing white gown for a party, he feels confined and uncomfortable. He is much more at ease when he is dueling and drinking at the pub.

Director Rebecca Maxfield utilizes an all-female cast to create a world dominated by men and male power. There are some intense fights and cleverly executed scenes featuring costumed dancers wearing masks. Gabriel has been wearing a mask of her own for her entire life and is swept up by Astolphe's passions.

Kelly Robertson was engaging and sympathetic as Astolphe, and the chemistry between her and Pavao is palpable. These two characters find themselves dealing with different attitudes toward life and love, which inevitably leads to tragedy. The supporting cast was uniformly strong, especially Destinee Mangum as the scheming and beautiful Faustina, who is in love with Astolphe. Mangum infuses her line readings with a delicious sense of malice.

Sissy O'Hara also turns in solid work as Gabriel's faithful servant Marc and Ashley Macamaux is also effective as Antonio, Faustina's brash paramour.

"Gabriel," is in many ways, a reflection of Sand's real life. Sand, in fact, was just a pseudonym for Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, a French novelist and feminist. Sand's reputation was heavily scrutinized when she began wearing men's clothing in public. As a result, Sand was able to circulate more freely in Paris than most of her female contemporaries and gave her increased access to places from which women were often prohibited, even women of her social standing.

Considering recent news stories detailing the flood of famous men who have been accused of victimizing women in a display of their own power, "Gabriel" is unusually timely. Women are still struggling to gain equality in the workplace and the respect of their male counterparts.

The debate over gender fluidity still rages on as well. "Gabriel" challenges us to decide what really distinguishes a man from a woman. It is a discussion which will likely continue for many more years to come.

"Gabriel" runs through December 17 at AS220 Black Box Theatre, 95 Empire St. Providence. For tickets or information, visit

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.