Entries in James DeVita (4)


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




William Shakespeare’s The History of Troilus and Cressida presents a grim picture of war and the world in which it prevails, while the Trojans and Greeks wage untold battles over the exquisite Queen Helen for seven years. At Spring Green’s Up the Hill Theatre last weekend, American Players Theatre premiered a Troilus & Cressida that chilled the audience as much as the Spring Green night air on an August evening.

A play written or performed somewhere between 1600 and 1610, this Shakespeare evening requires a focused audience for the emotionally and intellectually demanding performance. APT stages a dauntless production because of the brutal battle scenes, numerous cast members and lengthy running time, over three hours with intermission. However, for those who attend the performance, the outdoor experience pays magnificent dividends to appreciate the rarely performed play.

The original story culled from history and several outside sources, including perhaps the scripts from the great Greek tragedian Euripides, uncovers the uncouth humanity in gods, goddesses, and the supposed divinity assigned to kings, rulers and war lords. Shakespeare follows the lead in his play that defies a specific genre, with aspects of comedy, history and tragedy that adds a dose of satire to his script when it scrutinizes these famous personas that history admired although were certainly flawed.    

Director William Brown mines the humor in APT’s production, expertly generated in the first act with resident actor James DeVita. He navigates the rough territory as Pandarus, an uncle and Trojan protector of his niece, Cressida. His aging character given little power, Pandarus uses only his clever words and less than heroic deeds to make life right where wrong lies. DeVita proves this when he sings Shakespeare’s very comic/tragic love song: “Love, love nothing but love, still love, still more, “ and eventually convinces a handsome Nate Burger as Prince Troilus to woo Laura Rock appearing as an ambivalent, handsome Cressida. 

Contrast that with Thersites, a superb portrayal of the pitiful Greek acted by La Shawn Banks, who rails that “there’s nothing but war and lechery....to confound all….and love is death, swooning destruction.” His comments spread with spite when Cressida is traded to the Greeks for an important Trojan warrior. Now separated from Troilus, Cressida cavorts with Travis A. Knight’s sexually persuasive Diomedes, to the Prince’s distress.   

The war begins again all for the sake of Helen, who remains in the Trojan Camp, and this feminine/masculine trade only restarts the battle after a false truce. Oaths and vows now break, where words mean little to the deeds eventually done. Words spoken by Achilles, Agamemnon, Ajax, Hector, Paris, Ulysses, Troilus and Cressida, and other god-like persons, played by an superb supporting cast, display there ever despicable personal characteristics that crack through their respectable lives.   

Kevin Asselin’s realistic fight choreography invokes the audience to cringe when swords fly. Rachel Anne Healy’s elegant costume designs, diaphanous gowns ornamented in metallic gilt, meld seamlessly with technical skills from associated lighting, music and sound designers. APT stages a commanding play that dominates an evening as the actors travel the theatre aisles during the performance while the audience watches fitfully.    

In the hours after the performance feeling both discouraged and enthralled, one questions the reasons to why and when do wars attain honor and glory, to justify the resultant destruction? As the curse of Shakespeare’s Pandarus repeats in his epilogue, Shakespeare ponders the perverse in his play to make the audience review war’s consequences and the human condition that lay waste in the aftermath. An exceptional, yet uneasy story APT courageously delivers to their audience.

American Players Theatre presents Troilus & Cressida at the Up the Hill Theatre through October. Please consider dressing appropriately warm for these evenings, a pleasure outdoors under the stars. For further information and tickets, please call 608.588.2361 or click the link to the left.   by Peggy Sue Dunigan 










English history presents King Richard III from a different perspective then William Shakespeare’s famous dramatic tragedy, Richard III. Yet, Shakespeare’s vision remains firmly fixed in the audience’s mind. American Players Theatre portrays a very cunning, very intelligent and minimally disfigured Richard, Duke of Gloucester, much to Director James DaVita’s astute credit. By allowing the masterful actor James Ridge to contain the Duke’s withered arm to a metal splint, courtesy of Rachel Anne Healy’s elegant Edwardian costumes from the turn of  20th century, Richard’s evil murders and ascent to the throne consumes and thrills the audience on APT’s  stage. 

Scenic Designer Takeshi Kata underscores Richard’s regally debased political deceit with a set built similar to a silver steel fortress. A sophisticated design tinged in metallic gold around the edges appears to block out any goodness or mercy that could enter into the Duke’s bloody plans to become King. Kata’s sets also grant access to the audience, and the APT cast freely moves through the theater aisles, whether in a courtly procession or storming the battle scene at Bosworth Field. 

That battle scene delivers Richard’s famous line, “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” and determines his death because his horse by one account was supposedly trapped in a nearby stream and left Richard unable to escape. Shakespeare alludes that Richard was trapped by his conscience, the guilt from his murderous ways, and the ghosts from his past. He’s the last English King killed on the battlefield, and the Tudors eventually forge peace by uniting the Red and White Rose lineage. Fight Director Kevin Asselin strategically assaults the stage with convincing combat scenes that send shivers through the audience’s spines. Afterwards they welcome peace when Richmond, a sublime Travis A. Knight, confirms the treaty by marriage to the young Elizabeth when reading the final lines.  

More revealing than Richard’s most well-known line is one from a previous scene, where Richard dreams of horrors ahead before the fateful battle and admits: “Richard loves Richard.” This narcissism ruins Richard from beginning to end. Ridge fully evolves from that deliriously power hungry Duke of Gloucester bent on murdering anyone in his path to this delusional English King racked with guilt. For all the multiple murders Shakespeare attributes to Richard and plague him in his dreams, which APT stages to ominous effect. 

Ridge gives Richard psychological depth, devilish desire and an acerbic wit that adds additional layers to Shakespeare’s story and provides the perfect contrast to DeVita’s four strong queens, equally imposing. Women who lament their lost husbands and sons, many killed at Richard’s hands, and curse him. Tracy Michelle Arnold’s powerful Margaret of Anjou leads the performance with her wrathful prophecy. Colleen Madden’s Queen Elizabeth, Sarah Day’s Duchess of York (Richard’s mother), and Melissa Graves’s Lady Anne that eventually becomes Richard’s Queen speak sorrowful counterpoints to Richard’s destruction and the men under his command at court. Grief arises from every corner on stage, especially London’s prison tower, despite any efforts to dismantle Richard’s treachery. 

While APT’s alternate Up The Hill Theatre selections provide comedy and romance, this stunning Richard III confronts humanity’s obsession with power at all costs. In this election year facing a polarized constituency, placed against world economic woes, Shakespeare’s multiple plot points could be considered carefully. Who can the public or anyone trust even when one thinks they are catering to who’s ultimately in political control?  While Richard III presents tragic consequences to this moral conundrum, APT’s extraordinary 2012 production dramatically proves lasting peace often comes at excessively high costs.

American Players Theatre presents William Shakespeare's Richard III directed by James DeVita through September. For further information and tickets please call: 608.588.7401 or click the APT link to the left   by Peggy Sue Dunigan





An old story first told in 1906, O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi  follows on the pages of an ancient story: Three kings bearing gifts after sighting a star that hovers over a humble manger in Bethlehem. Either story continually refreshes the soul in this century because the words speak gratitude and love instead of dissent and isolation. 

The accomplished James DeVita’s adaptation of the short story The Gift of the Magi begins on the Touchstone Theatre Stage at American Players Theatre  (APT) with these thoughts in mind. The cast’s initial moments and memories envision holidays overflowing with presents, sweets and toys. Yet, James and Della Dillingham Young struggle in 1908 with Jim’s reduced pay similar to many individual’s circumstances this very year. How does one survive when you’re “one in a million, living on New York’s streets” in a three stair tenement apartment in the center of Clothesline Alley?” 

In APT's perfect casting, the sophisticated Brian Mani acting as O. Henry narrates the powerful tale through multiple roles accompanied by 24 original melodies. Josh Schmidt (At Milwaukee’s Skylight Opera Theatre this spring for a performance of his The Adding Machine) composed the haunting score together with the lyrics alongside DeVita. Their rhythmic book and measures ring from Nick Ertinger’s violin and  Eric Miller’s cello. On stage for the entire performance, these musicians' strings evoke those in the heart. The “sobs, sniffles and smiles” that O. Henry speaks about in Della’s life. 

Tracy Michelle Arnold plays opposite her real life husband Marcus Truschinski in Della and Jim’s rich tale that devotedly unwraps their gratitude for each other instead of expensive presents. With the production’s added compositions and streamlined revisions, the evening reveals a treasure in music, song and storytelling perhaps reflecting the three gifts brought by those earthly kings from afar when following the star. A surprising regal production arises from this dedicated humility portrayed on the Touchstone stage while the five cast members eloquently capture the two old stories that persuasively offers the audience the most luxurious gift of all.

APT’s The Gift of the Magi appreciates the eternal truth to every holiday season. That gratitude for those who appear in one’s life can be more essential than any purchased package. O. Henry believes love without lavish possessions, despite the monetary value one tries to attach to the emotion, can never be wasted, at the holidays in December or into the New Year. May those in the audience make the APT's seasonal production a tradition to attend with those they dearly cherish. These Magi’s gifts, along with those of Della’s and Jim’s, remind the audiences to love one another wastefully, whatever the cost to the heart. Genuine love and concern for others might be the wisest investment for all.  

American Players Theatre presents The Gift of the Magi based on the classic story by O. Henry through December 18. The drive to Spring Green can be serenely beautiful, a restful afternoon before enjoying this timeless theater treasure. For information or tickets call: 608.588.2361 or click the link to the left.  by Peggy Sue Dunigan