Entries in James Ridge (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



APTs Saucy Maugham Farce Delights the Eye

For this hot and humid 2013 summer season, American Players Theatre revives a saucy British farce by W. Somerset Maugham produced in 1919, Two Many Husbands. Originally titled Home and Beauty, the 1940’s film starring Jean Arthur, Melvyn Douglas and Fred MacMurray billed the movie adaptation under this alternate name, which APT prefers and seems to give additional meaning to Maugham’s script.

The play draws an uncanny humor from post World War I, when fathers, husbands and brothers were reported lost on the front, the war office then naming them missing in action, so their young widows after a year of proper mourning, were eventually free to remarry. Such is the case in Maugham’s less romanticized version of soldiers and home life after the war.

In Maugham’s script, the beautiful, privileged Victoria loses her first husband William at Ypres, dashed in the head from a bullet, and then marries his best friend Frederick, who returns from France for a less dangerous job at an office in London. Three years later after William was determined to have died in the war, he suddenly returns, very much alive, to discover Victoria must choose between her two husbands.

Acting in the role of the slightly shallow although effervescent Victoria, Deborah Staples sashays around the stage admiring her polished nails in lace trimmed satin nightgowns, glittering pink dressing gowns fringed with feathers and a fox fur trimmed suit worthy of haute couture.

These scenes, while indeed visually striking, also allow Staples to give Victoria a sensuous and savvy persona from a worldly point of view. The audience knows who she is and yet adores her for her prodigious charms. As do her two husbands, William and Fredrick, even if marriage to Victoria has proven less fulfilling than they imagined.

Marcus Truschinski suits up in fine military form as Frederick, who laments his Victoria always being right, and mentions at times she can be rather infuriating, similar to the returning William, a buoyant James Ridge. Both husbands, men, are having a difficult time resisting Victoria’s outward assets. However, as the play ambles forward, the three find themselves in an uncomfortable ménage à trois before the situation is sorted out.

Some exceptional cameos add to Maugham’s satirical script on British social class, war heroism and touches on women’s rights. Colleen Madden plays three different women, continually leaving the audience with a memory of her stage presence. Playing Victoria’s mother Mrs. Shuttleworth, Tracy Michelle Arnold takes great joy in instructing and sympathizing with her daughter, all under David Frank’s nuanced direction.

For these characters, Nayna Ramey’s scenic designs portray an off kilter world, elegant and somewhat shifting, while Robert Morgan’s costumes drape Staples and everyone else in garments that are literally “smashing.” The last act plays, almost predates a comic scene from Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, with the two husbands manning domestic life without wait servants.

However, in every satire there are silver linings of truth. Contemporary wives could easily complain as Victoria, “Husbands simply don’t understand what things cost!” In her day, coal for heat, French face cream or household help, in particular cooks; in 2013, dresses, French face cream, shoes.  

APT’s theatrical British eye candy offers delightful humor, with those slivers of truth. Victoria was more of an anomaly in 1919, commandeering her future the best way she could for the time, as her two husbands hope to escape the “habit” of marriage with scant remorse. Staples honestly plays Victoria as a stronger woman than she appears, who realizes what she wants, and has no trouble in the final scenes deciding what to choose for her life.

Perhaps some of these sentiments can be understandable after a devastating war, eminently relevant in 2013 with the continual controversy on what marriage means in the recent news. Especially when Victoria utters the line in the first act: “Who wants to be understood? I don't want to be understood. I just want to be loved.”

Experiencing a personal life that included a traumatic childhood, Maugham was orphaned at ten, and later raised by an uncle who forced him into studying medicine. After publishing his first novel, he eventually renounced the profession for his enormously successful writing career. Exhibiting an unpopular and fluid sexuality, Maugham divorced his wife in 1929 after a daughter was born, and went on to have men partners throughout his long life.

Maugham could certainly understand what wanting to be loved might look like amid the often arbitrary social conventions of Victorian British life. APT's audience will leave smiling, appreciating the sophisticated production, admiring the accomplished yet gorgeous Staples and pondering Maugham’s farce with fresh perspectives.

American Players Theatre presents W. Somersets Maugham's Two Many Husbands throughout the 2013 season. For informaitons, performance times and tickets, please call 608.588.2361 or click the APT link to the left.             by Peggy Sue Dunigan  







Author and playwright J.M. Barrie will be best remembered for writing Peter Pan rather than The Admirable Crichton, the new American Players Theatre production that opened at the Up the Hill Theatre on a cool August Saturday night. Barrie’s earlier composed play The Admirable Crichton unleashed a hilarious, dreamlike atmosphere when the downstairs butler Crichton upended the upstairs British aristocracy while stranded on an isolated pacific island.

At first glance the stage, enhanced only by several pieces of wicker furniture, sets the scene for three sisters (Lady Agatha, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary) dressed in frothy, summer white gowns to discuss a sea sojourn with their Uncle Lord Loam and the Honorable Ernest Wooley. A three-month excursion on their Uncle’s yacht will test their mettle by depriving them of many Victorian luxuries attributed to their idle upper class. Where if the heavens fall into the sea, the three sisters will need to share only one lady’s maid!

The idea shakes the propriety of the servants and sisters alike, and needless to say, the dutiful butler Crichton and one scullery maid Tweeny accompany Lord Loam, a narcissistic Earnest and the three sisters together with Reverend Treherne on the yacht. Only to find themselves shipwrecked without any frivolities or pleasures, especially hairpins that could be used for needles, although this disparate group finds themselves grateful to be alive. 

Crichton and Tweeny, who were productive in London, lead the clueless upper class to where a new “natural order” will be established on the tiny island. Crichton transforms, as does the entire crew, when settled into these tropical set designs envisioned by Scenic Desginer Michael Ganio and lifted from images by primitive painter Henri Rousseau. An artist that believed his “jungle scenes and strange plants came from exotic dreams.” 

Exotic dreams eventually unfold on the island when Crichton ascends to Lord and Master over everyone. APT Director Kenneth Albers challenges an all star cast where the incomparable James Ridge inhabits the admirable, ingenious Crichton, contrasted by Steve Haggard’s cheeky, yet likeable Wooley. Colleen Madden endears the audience with her good hearted, soulful Tweeny. A Tweeny who could supposedly be the perfect matrimonial match that complements Crichton’s natural order in London, Wooley’s on the island. 

However, Susan Shunk’s Lady Mary steps into the scariest sojourn of all and renames herself Polly. The attractive, petite Shunk chases eight point dear, skims over island streams and serves her new master Crichton with equally unbound dreams and love. She exclaims with awe, “I feel so alive.” 

When a rescue ship arrives two years later the island dream abruptly ends, much to the chagrin of Crichton, Lord Loam and the Lady Mary. The newly evolved Wooley rejoices and afterwards authors a completely unnatural version of the sextet's captivity. 

While sitting in the revised London garden amid Rousseau’s wild foliage surrounding them instead of their tightly trimmed topiaries, Lord Loam and Lady Mary reminisce. Mary uncomfortable in her floor length red dress and proper British manners. Loam's eyes find a wistful Mary and he reflects, “We were happy there, weren’t we?”

Perhaps Barrie intended each audience member to question what they dream about, what makes them “happy” or fulfilled. What present actions determine true service and how does this affect the natural order? Perhaps the Victorian aristocracy was more satisfied self-sufficient and unbound on a primitive island than pampered and caged in their neatly groomed garden. 

Barrie’s narration (performed by David Frank)  to the play and delightful humor deliver more than a satire on social class, which transfers to the contemporary world. Even in 2012, someone, some ethnicity or persons need to be "downstairs" to make another human being feel superior. When walking down that long hill from the theater after a dream like evening under the stars, perhaps consider what unbound to the status quo might mean. Allow APT’s enchanting The Admirable Crichton to unleash a personal dream and define how to feel incredibly alive. 

American Players Theatre presents J.M. Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton at the Up the Hill Theatre in Spring Green through September. For further information and a performance schedule 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