Entries in Molly Sweeney (2)

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