Wednesday
Aug212013

 

Family and their Fortunes Deftly Define APT’s All My Sons

Who becomes a person’s family---sons and daughters, fathers and mothers in today’s world? Pulitzer Prize winner Arthur Miller’s first successful play All My Sons resonates with these contemporary questions at the American Players Theatre Up the Hill stage this season.   

Set in the summer of 1947 in the aftermath of World War II,  the script’s three families meet in the backyards of their Wisconsin homes, an ordinary neighborhood, after a night’s thunderstorm. However, Miller’s play based on a true story unleashes the storms of life that are only beginning on this August morning and become deftly directed by William Brown. 

In this very private setting, the Kellers, Bayliss and Lubey families tend the ground between their perceived lives and realities. And Annie Deever, a former resident, has returned to visit at Chris Keller’s request. While Annie was “going with” Chris’s brother, Larry, Larry has been reported missing in action for three years. And though Chris served in the war and returned, he now wishes to propose to Annie although his mother Kate waits for Larry’s return. In her mind, Larry is only lost instead of killed from a flying mission. 

Annie’s father Steve and Joe Keller worked in a business together, making parts for war planes, when an entire shipment cracked. The defects were covered up in hopes of being discovered after more were manufactured and could be resent. This opportunity failed, and so did the parts, causing 21 pilots to crash on flight missions.While Joe and Annie’s father were arrested and put on trial,  Joe was exonerated, although Steve remains in prison, which caused Annie and her brother, George, and their mother to move away, perhaps to discover the real truth. 

And so from these multiple losses, each member in this community wrestles with social responsibility, covering up what they believe they know, the ravages of war, protecting their families and the price of a monetary fortune won or lost.

“Money, money, money, money,” Jim Bayliss repeats. He’s a physician who really wishes to do research, yet research pays very little compared to an individual practice. Bayliss continues, “If you say it enough, it doesn’t mean anything.. Wish I would be around when that doesn’t matter anymore.”

Chris Keller struggles with the large amounts of money his father, Joe, still makes from the mechanical parts business. Fortunes were made and lost during World War II, in currency and lives. Chris lremembers he ost his entire battalion in several missives and feels the weight of this responsibility, his idealistic notions, where everyone is their brother’s keeper. A principle in the new world to come, where  “our” brother as Chris says, “Is s a love another man has for a man.”

On opening night, what made Miller’s story come alive again with these timeless questions was a riveting APT cast centered by Jonathan Smoots and Sarah Day in the roles of Joe and Kate Keller. Smoots’ talented egacy at APT crystallized his affection for his son and love for his wife, emotions poignantly heartbreaking in the final scenes.

Marcus Truschinski radiates goodness from son Chris, so the words are believable when he says, “the wars should make us better,” whether spoken father to son, son to mother, or neighbor to neighbor. His lovely bride in waiting, the beautiful Kelsey Brennan, adds spunk to Annie Deever, the woman caught in the middle of the Deever tragedies. And while only supporting roles, the rest of the cast admirably fills in the neighborhood with characters that enlighten Miller’s action further. 

Kevin Depinet’s lush, green set design envisions a picture perfect American life exactly as the trellis covered in red roses does on his stage. Life unexpectedly blooms like roses while uncovering the thorns on the vines underneath without trying to destroy the beauty in the petals A beauty seen in costumes designed by Rachel Anne Healy. 

That’s what a war, and sometimes daily living, does, when Keller admits, “I had two sons and now there’s one, war changed all the tallies.”

And yes, Miller ends his play similar to a Greek tragedy where another human person dies to right a wrong, to change the tallies in his family's history again. This reviewer shamelessly shed a few tears at the conclusion, for the tallies changed or invested in war, fathers, sons, and now daughters, fortunes, lovers and their lives, often lost. Miller’s characters grieved, survived, went forward, and so will the audience while they ponder who in the world constitutes their own fathers and sons, mothers and daughters? What events and persons will make them better people in spite of life’s tragedies.  

American Players Theatre presents Arthur Miller's All My Sons through the remaining 2013 season at the Up the Hill Theatre. For further information or tickets, please call 608.588.2361 or click the APT link to the left.   By Peggy Sue Dunigan

 

Wednesday
Aug212013

APT’s Elegant and Sparse Anthony and Cleopatra

The Touchstone Theatre at Spring Green’s American Players Theatre inspires the legendary company to take dramatic risks. Staging William Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra by incorporating a mere seven characters that act the story within three hours embodies a small miracle on opening weekend. With certainty, APT’s Anthony and Cleopatra: An Adaption relies on the assured genius of Kate Buckley, Director, and James DeVita, actor as Mark Anthony, who collaboratively adapted this production to an ephemeral essence of the play’s politics and romance.

An experienced APT cast illuminates the production further, including debuting company member Abbey Siegworth playing Cleopatra’s singular maid of honour Charmian in lieu of Colleen Madden who suffered a family emergency. Somehow the shortened version cystallizes the contemporary aesthetics in the historically based romance performed in the intimacy of the air-conditioned Touchstone.

For those theatre-goers less familiar with ancient history, Shakespeare had originally toyed with all the absolute facts surrounding these characters taken from Roman antiquity. However, the two main male characters, Mark Anthony and Octavius Caesar ruled Rome in a triumviri with another royal. Cleopatra led Egyptian culture from a cosmopolitan Alexandria, as one of the most intriguing feminine leaders the world has known.

Literally, hundreds of writers in every discipline have discussed the philosophical, political, racial and romantic underpinnings to the Shakespearean script since the first production in 1608. Myths surrounding Cleopatra and Mark Anthony also recall the subsequent stereotypes and various interpretations that have been embraced and known by audiences in 2013.

Perhaps the APT adaptation strips away some of these stereotypes when staging the production in the Art Deco period, complete with 1930’s costumes designed by Robert Morgan, a stark set by Nathan Stuber and a chimerical lighting backdrop by Noelle Stollmack. The serene and sophisticated nature of the technical elements transcends an audience’s previous inclinations towards the famous or infamous couple and the resulting iconic films to look at the production, the performance, the meaning with fresh eyes.

Cleopatra was an enigmatic woman, sensual and savvy, a powerful seducer in both the political and romantic realms, an intelligent, feminine force to be reckoned with.  A queen Tracy Michelle Arnold inhabits by dressing in luxurious satin garments worthy of an exotic Erté illustration. Her costumes envision ambition, leadership, royalty and sexuality, a complex set of qualities for any woman and actress Arnold carries with ease.

Her romantic paramour Marc Anthony comes to the stage in DeVita, black bearded and headed, with a lust for power and Cleopatra’s passion, which conflicts in this play to his demise. As his political partner and then rival, Christopher Sheard stands regally in pressed suits as Caesar, with Eric Parks acting as Thidias, his valiant cohort. James Ridge serves as a fine interpreter of Enobarbus, dissecting the character’s divided loyalties to both leaders towards his own destruction. While a capable and young Will Mobley remains ever faithful to Anthony in the part of Eros.

Only a cast this gifted could set their sights on an ambitious production that moves quickly through this set of cataclysmic events to christen the eventual Roman Empire. The fierce and fleeting production unfurls as seamlessly as the stage’s singular silk column, that becomes both pillar in court, dressing curtain in a bedchamber, and billowing sail on one of Anthony’s doomed battle ships at sea.

APT’s Anthony and Cleopatra resembles an intoxicating aroma of a fragrance when compared to a full blooded perfrum and production, yet releases a scent equally alluring and potent. The performance’s potency equals the allure of power that continually seduces modern humanity, still frail and flawed since this ancient time, whether misconstrued for countries, fortunes or love. An allure that Shakespeare speaks of in his play’s verse, relates to the dramatic fragrance that captured the audience’s complete attention in APT’s unique adaptation. With the production’s essence similar to the bard’s words when he wrote, “the air seemed dizzy with love…the winds were lovesick with them.”

American Players Theatre presents William Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra through the fall season. For further information on the performance schedule or tickets, please call 608.588.2361 or click the APT link to the left.   by Peggy Sue Dunigan

 

Tuesday
Aug132013

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:  Award Winning Theatre at Stellar APT

How fitting in the year 2013, when British playwright Tom Stoppard won England’s PEN Pinter Award, only one of many he has garnered, that American Players Theatre stages a Stoppard play in the Up the Hlll Theatre authored when he was 29 years old. The one produced in 1967 that originally jettisoned the playwright to this elite literary status: “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.”

Stoppard also follows in the footsteps of Harold Pinter, the Nobel Prize Winner in Literature the award is named after, because both playwrights appeal to the Theatre of the Absurd. Where the dramatic action transforms seemingly banal conversation and language into enigmatic contemplation often posing little or no possibility of certainty or truth.

Director James Bohnen delivers a brilliant production for Stoppard’s multi-award winning, existential play, so dependent on the acting talents of the three main characters. This season perfectly cast with Ryan Imhoff as Rosencrantz, Steve Haggard as Guildenstern, and John Pribyl as the Player. Haggard and Imhoff replay a medieval version of Laurel and Hardy, trapped from the anterooms of action in William Shakespeare’s Danish castle, Elsinore, for a decidedly different look at Hamlet. Where the two friends muse on why they were called to ease the madness of the prince, discover the reason for the source of Hamlet’s distress.

Comic timing, dramatic silences, preganant pauses and facial expressions, plus a deep chemistry to display the mark of true friendship between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, inhabit the performances of Imhoff and Haggard. Who constantly confuse their own names of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, interchangeable, because of being so inconsequential to Hamlet’s situation and in Stoppard’s absurd time frame, life as the audience lives day to day.

What difference do these childhood cohorts, their roles, make in this play or the other tragedy, Hamlet? As Rosencrantz admits, “I can’t think of anything original, I’m only good in support.”  They both question their signifigance in this situation and the greateer meaning to their existence. Later in the same act, Guildenstern replies while they are pondering their future: “Death is not romantic…only an absence of presence.”

In the other main role, Pribyl leads his band of itinerant actors with seductive charm and assured leadership. His character’s theatrical art and words only matter when he and his band of merry men have an audience. Similar to Stoppard, whose play only resonates when seen before an audience and APT, who can only play to yet another audience sitting directly in front of them. In this production, APT actors and Up the Hill Theatre audiences often interact to emphasize this truth.

Using Andrew Boyce/Takeshi Kata’s exact set from APT’s Hamlet to striking effect, especially when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern travel to England on a boat and a huge canvas covers the stage resembling a sail, the APT actors from Hamlet reprise their roles, which elevates the absurdity and authenticity even further. Holly Payne’s sumptuous costumes decorated in fur and gilt, constructed in autumnal colors, ochre, parchment, sienna and umber, echo Guildenstern who explains,  “Autumnal not being seasonal” and foreshadows a finite end, when he says, “Autumnal is the brownness at the edges of the day.”

“What actors do best is death…and art must mirror life, “ the Player also confesses. And so, how do human do death. Actors mirror what is fated to occur in life, and so the Player explains how many ways there are to "do death." Or as he adds, “Life is a gamble at terrible odds. If you knew, you wouldn’t take it.”

These words illustrate how Stoppard’s classic tragicomedy relies heavily on the poetic ambiguity of language and these humorous one-liners, poignantly funny and profoundly contemporary, for a rich evening of theatre. His third act opens when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sit in darkness, trying to decipher where they are going and their uncertain future on that boat at sea taking Hamlet to England. Where Spring Green’s clear night sky filled with bright stars, illuminating the theater and the action on stage simultaneously, merging fantasy and reality seamlessly. A perfect example of Stoppard’s ingenious play and APT’s amazing ability to conjure the timeless qualities of why art and life matter in their stellar production “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.”

American Players Theatre presents the award winning Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ard Dead at the Up the Hill Theatre throughout the 2013 season. For information on performance times and ticket information, please call 608.588.2361 or click the link to the left.   by Peggy Sue Dunigan

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jul092013

Play in the Woods at APT’s Two Gentlemen of Verona

“In the Woods” can be that place where during William Shakespeare’s stories characters often discover their very personal transformations. In the woods and Up the Hill, American Players Theatre presents another version of characters that find themselves living in the woods during tough times in Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. An opportunity to view this early play from the master’s dramatic legacy produced far less often than many others.

Shakespeare’s tale recounts the constancy of friendship and love as these best friends, two young gentlemen, Proteus and Valentine, seek their fortunes in Italy. Proteus first falls in love with the dark haired Julia, pledging his faith with a gold ring. Then the other gentleman Valentine swears his heart to the fairer Sylvia, already betrothed to a wealthy friend of her father the Duke of Milan. That is, until Proteus visits Valentine, meets Sylvia, and then struggles with the value of friendship, faithfulness, and his own wanton inclinations. 

In Two Gentlemen, the servants of Proteus and Valentine, Speed and Launce, provide some great laughs, narrate the story and give the audience clues to their masters’ ensuing actions. Will Mobley’s Speed and Steve Haggard’s Launce exude Shakespeare’s ability for bawdy, clever rhyme while mocking the constancy of human friendship. Launce would sacrifice more for his canine friend, Crab, a real life German Shepherd named Tim, than his human master. Hence, a dog might actually be man’s best friend, for these animals indeed prove loyal in the best sense. 

Director Tim Ocel appears to give Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen a modern edge, with Marcus Truschinski playing Proteus and Travis A. Knight, Valentine. This seems to strip some of the lyricism from Shakespeare’s lines, a lyricism more necessary in this earlier play where Shakespeare might be developing as a young playwright.  On stage APT further strips down Shakespeare’s script with little embellishment in scenery, a pier like, wooden scaffolding for the set, a more modern, bare bones interpretation by Scenic Designer Nathan Stuber.

Opposite the male leads, Shakespeare begins to place his focus on strong women, the petite Susan Shunk in the role of the forlorn Julia, and in her maid Lucetta, a great cameo performance by Kelsey Brennan. The debuting Abbey Siegworth plays the fiery Silvia. This fair-haired beauty committed to her love for Valentine in spite of her father’s intended wishes, or whatever Proteus attempts to whisper in her ears.

While all four leads can command a stage, on this humid night there might have been more romantic heat between the two couples. More affection was perceived between Proteus and Valentine than for either of their female loves, perhaps something that will develop completely over the summer season.

In a fateful twist, Shakespeare’s poetry in Two Gentlemen provides the audience with the famous line “Love is blind " to poignantly contrast with their Touchstone Theatre production, Molly Sweeney, where actually “seeing” proves to be less valuable in discerning matters of the heart. Lovers wish to be in the darkness, oblivious to their partner’s shortcomings, where friends can often see truths. This inherent loyalty to friendship and love dominate the themes in Two Gentlemen.

Proteus proves himself false to Julia and Valentine, yet he makes amends, and then discovers forgiveness offered from Valentine, who knew Proteus was blind to the truth. Walking down the hill through the woods, one heard after the performance, “How unrealistic the ending was, for Valentine to forgive Proteus.” In the woods is where all the final action in this play unfolds, and one might consider that women were only property in Shakespeare’s era, when Proteus’s crime might be seen as less repulsive than today. Still, Ocel used more force in his seemingly contemporary interpretation of that scene than usually noted. Although, Shakespeare consistently inhabits his women with assurance and confidence to rival the male ego, as he did here.

Yet, without Shakespeare adding the redemptive “one feast, one house, one mutual happiness,” the forgiveness Valentine offers to his dear friend Proteus at the play's conclusion, despite Valentine being betrayed, the audience would be left with destruction. Only forgiveness restores the love of Valentine and Silvia, given also by and to the Duke of Milan, and then from Julia for Proteus.

While each of APT’s plays can be singularly dynamic entertainment for the evening, considering this fascinating trio, the two Shakespeare plays in contrast to Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeney, invites compelling discussion. There was spare forgiveness, given too late, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, while APT’s Molly Sweeney powerfully uncovers what “blind” and “seeing” can actually mean. Encounter a personal transformation while playing in the APT woods this summer, all the while enjoying every minute of the company’s entertaining and intellectually fascinating theater season.  

American Players Theatre presents William Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona through their summer season in repertoire with Shakespeare's Hamlet and Brain Friel's Molly Sweeney, along with two other fascinating plays. To "play in the woods" with APT, for further information on schedules, special events or tickets please call   608.588.2361 or click the APT link to the left.                         by Peggy Sue Dunigan

Monday
Jul082013

 The Miracle of APT’s Molly Sweeney

In the Touchstone Theatre for the 2013 season, American Players Theatre presents Brian Friel’s compelling Molly Sweeney. The 1993 play written by the renowned Irish playwright, often compared to Chekhov, sets his three characters in one of his favorite imaginary towns, Ballybeg, and uses a format similar to his previous play Faith Healer: Where three characters retell the story through monologues without any dialogue between them for the entire performance.

Friel’s premise introduces the main character, Molly Sweeney, a now fortyish woman blind since an illness at 10 months of age. Then her husband, Frank, a man enthusiastic to take up the cause of restoring Molly's vision with vigilance. And a brilliant ophthalmologist, Dr./Mr. Rice, a man “blindsighted” by his former successes and needs the miracle of restoring Molly’s sight to revitalize his personal and professional integrity.

Playing Sweeney, Colleen Madden gives a stellar performance, where Molly leaps off center stage with clarity and warm character embodying a cheerful, confident person who believes her blindness is a slight misfortune rather than a disability. Molly reveled in developing her other senses, smell, sound, taste and touch, with such acuity she “saw” experiences and people in ways a sighted person was unable to, or perhaps never could. 

David Daniel acts as the complex Frank, whose passion for various causes or money making ventures drives him toward several ill fated journeys. Without common sense and good in his heart, he wishes the best for “his beautiful Molly.” On the other side of the stage sits the once super star physician Dr./Mr. Rice, who comes to life through actor Jonathan Smoots in poignant portrayal of a once famous healer, conflicted and trying to rationalize his desire to create Molly’s miracle for himself instead of her. Each man encourages Molly to reach for her new vision with few considerations for Molly, if she needs this restoration at all.

The real miracle in Friel’s profound play might be realizing physically seeing anything rarely leads to complete understanding or believing. Today’s society can create a trompe l’oeil, airbrush or Photoshop image, and then stares at tiny screens continuously, sometimes wondering if what they read or see can actually be real.

Molly's character reminds the audience physical sight constitutes only one fifth of a human’s sensory perceptions, and when Molly danced, swam in the sea, or caught the fragrance of flowers, touched their petals, these other sensations can be far more exciting and pleasurable than merely visually recognizing or watching from afar. In a contemporary culture obsessed with visual impressions, in how people or objects look, which Molly never consumed herself with, Friel’s script resonates more powerfully today. He asks the audience to consider incorporating the entirety of human sensations into one’s life, while pondering the imperfection of relying on sight, or primarily on sight alone.

APT crafts a riveting afternoon or evening under the sure handed direction of Kenneth Albers, who sends Molly Irish dancing or swimming when rising from her chair, to show the audience how she lives in her alternate world full of scents, sounds, touches and tastes. These performances from three immensely gifted actors ask the audience to intellectually consider what "seeing," apart from that singular physical activity, might mean even though very few people would choose to be without sight and live in perpetual darkness. Many people rarely "see" all that surrounds them, due to distraction, much less completely use their other four senses.  

The play also inspires an acute appreciation for being grateful for what one already has, while anticipating the unknowns to any unseen futures. Where using the alternate skill of hearing, sound, really listening to another human being might prove to be more useful than convincing an individual to conform to someone else’s ideal. Do Frank and Mr. Rice use Molly to validate their own choices instead of considering the genuine person she has grown to be? This thoroughly compelling APT production in the intimate Touchstone venue, which has provided exceptional new theatrical experiences for their ardent fans, plays perfectly to the true miracle of Molly Sweeney.

American Players Theatre presents Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeney through the summer 2013. For information, show times and tickets, please call 608.588.2361 or click the APT link to the left. by Peggy Sue Dunigan