Entries in Kenneth Albers (2)


 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




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