Entries in Spring Green Theatre (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



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