Entries in Sarah Day (3)



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




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





American Players Theatre stages a lavish revival in their Up the Hill Amphitheater of Edna Ferber’s and George S. Kaufman’s The Royal Family. Written in the late 1920’s, the production might appear grand. comedic “fluff” in this century, even though a 1975 revival won a Drama Desk Award for Best Revival of a Play. Director Laura Gordon delivers the dramatic undertones in this script with three strong women characters that symbolize not only a matriarchal lineage, but also a connection to contemporary women and their career dilemmas. Dilemmas that might elude the audience amid this delightfully crazy family, a humorous parody to the acting legacy left behind by the real life Barrymores. 

Actor Sarah Day rules as Fanny Cavendish, a fading stage star that denies the demise of her career because of of physical ills. Her understudy to the family legacy, daughter Julie comes to life in Tracy Michelle Arnold, the middle layer in this “sandwich” generation. Trying to decide if she needs to care for an ailing mother or be the acting coach for her own daughter Gwen, a sassy Ally Carey. Underneath all these comical antics with the men surrounding their lives, it’s these three women who have held the family bonds together. And together they wonder if there’s any meaning to the celebrity they’ve achieved, or might be trying to achieve for the future. How much do they need to sacrifice for the family profession, the theater? After all, Gwen pouts, “When it’s all over, name me two 17th century stockbrokers you remember.” 

There’s truth in Gwen’s words, celebrity breeds continual adulation, perhaps a place in history. A truth illustrated by Anthony Cavendish, their black sheep brother constantly in the media spotlight and asking for money. His petulant, self-absorbed temperament consistently breaks his movie contracts or carouses with women off screen in true celebrity style. Marcus Truschinski throws himself into this role with devilish delight, a master at the royal family's overly indulged actor and son. 

The family’s long-term manager Oscar Wolfe played by a warm David Daniel puts this into modern perspective when he admits to Fanny that she was a one of kind. No stage diva who asked for outlandish requests before signing to do a show or when appearing on stage. What has the 20th century wrought with the Kardashians and Britney Spears? Would Tony Cavendish or any of these women exist without society’s craving for celebrity? 

Gordon deftly delves into these timely issues, when her characters ask the tough questions with nuanced, serious performances that linger on these moments and their elusive answers. Is a celebrity’s life worth the sacrifices? What does Gwen want…marriage and a baby or a life on the stage? Can she have both and do them well? Neither Julie or Gwen will be completely satisfied, because a dependable life symbolized by their rich, business minded fiancés might leave them wanting for the excitement of the stage. Any woman might question these choices necessary to make in life, or debate when does she need to care for a parent or child instead of her own career: Either on the stage or in any 21st century career?  

Or perhaps ask these questions about the present day Drew Barrymore, who mid-thirties and after two dissolved marriages weds the financial wizard Will dressed in a Chanel designer gown, already pregnant with their first child. Is marriage only an incident instead of a career as Fanny claims? In an oddly prophetic take, what has Drew suffered for this celebrity legacy and her late attempt at personal contentment, life alongside a “dependable” husband? 

Appreciate and adore APT’s elegant The Royal Family, a performance full of laughter that underscores all women's hard won decisions. Decisions still considered relevant that will add dimension to the celebrity comedy of this entertaining production filled with great supporting performances. Gordon’s Director Notes in the playbill admit she has gratefully chosen a theatrical life and marriage, a decision her audiences applaud. APT’s royal Cavendish family portrays those heartfelt if ambivalent relationships between three generations of women, grandmother, mother and daughter. Women who care for themselves and each other, together with the reliable men they might love to piece together a wonderful if eccentric life from the remnants of their choices.  

American Players Theatre presents The Royal Family directed by The Rep's Laura Gordon through September at the Up the Hill Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin. For further information, please click the APT Plays in the Woods link to the left or call: 608.588.2361  by Peggy Sue Dunigan