Entries in Up the HIll Theatre (7)



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



Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:  Award Winning Theatre at Stellar APT

How fitting in the year 2013, when British playwright Tom Stoppard won England’s PEN Pinter Award, only one of many he has garnered, that American Players Theatre stages a Stoppard play in the Up the Hlll Theatre authored when he was 29 years old. The one produced in 1967 that originally jettisoned the playwright to this elite literary status: “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.”

Stoppard also follows in the footsteps of Harold Pinter, the Nobel Prize Winner in Literature the award is named after, because both playwrights appeal to the Theatre of the Absurd. Where the dramatic action transforms seemingly banal conversation and language into enigmatic contemplation often posing little or no possibility of certainty or truth.

Director James Bohnen delivers a brilliant production for Stoppard’s multi-award winning, existential play, so dependent on the acting talents of the three main characters. This season perfectly cast with Ryan Imhoff as Rosencrantz, Steve Haggard as Guildenstern, and John Pribyl as the Player. Haggard and Imhoff replay a medieval version of Laurel and Hardy, trapped from the anterooms of action in William Shakespeare’s Danish castle, Elsinore, for a decidedly different look at Hamlet. Where the two friends muse on why they were called to ease the madness of the prince, discover the reason for the source of Hamlet’s distress.

Comic timing, dramatic silences, preganant pauses and facial expressions, plus a deep chemistry to display the mark of true friendship between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, inhabit the performances of Imhoff and Haggard. Who constantly confuse their own names of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, interchangeable, because of being so inconsequential to Hamlet’s situation and in Stoppard’s absurd time frame, life as the audience lives day to day.

What difference do these childhood cohorts, their roles, make in this play or the other tragedy, Hamlet? As Rosencrantz admits, “I can’t think of anything original, I’m only good in support.”  They both question their signifigance in this situation and the greateer meaning to their existence. Later in the same act, Guildenstern replies while they are pondering their future: “Death is not romantic…only an absence of presence.”

In the other main role, Pribyl leads his band of itinerant actors with seductive charm and assured leadership. His character’s theatrical art and words only matter when he and his band of merry men have an audience. Similar to Stoppard, whose play only resonates when seen before an audience and APT, who can only play to yet another audience sitting directly in front of them. In this production, APT actors and Up the Hill Theatre audiences often interact to emphasize this truth.

Using Andrew Boyce/Takeshi Kata’s exact set from APT’s Hamlet to striking effect, especially when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern travel to England on a boat and a huge canvas covers the stage resembling a sail, the APT actors from Hamlet reprise their roles, which elevates the absurdity and authenticity even further. Holly Payne’s sumptuous costumes decorated in fur and gilt, constructed in autumnal colors, ochre, parchment, sienna and umber, echo Guildenstern who explains,  “Autumnal not being seasonal” and foreshadows a finite end, when he says, “Autumnal is the brownness at the edges of the day.”

“What actors do best is death…and art must mirror life, “ the Player also confesses. And so, how do human do death. Actors mirror what is fated to occur in life, and so the Player explains how many ways there are to "do death." Or as he adds, “Life is a gamble at terrible odds. If you knew, you wouldn’t take it.”

These words illustrate how Stoppard’s classic tragicomedy relies heavily on the poetic ambiguity of language and these humorous one-liners, poignantly funny and profoundly contemporary, for a rich evening of theatre. His third act opens when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sit in darkness, trying to decipher where they are going and their uncertain future on that boat at sea taking Hamlet to England. Where Spring Green’s clear night sky filled with bright stars, illuminating the theater and the action on stage simultaneously, merging fantasy and reality seamlessly. A perfect example of Stoppard’s ingenious play and APT’s amazing ability to conjure the timeless qualities of why art and life matter in their stellar production “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.”

American Players Theatre presents the award winning Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ard Dead at the Up the Hill Theatre throughout the 2013 season. For information on performance times and ticket information, please call 608.588.2361 or click the link to the left.   by Peggy Sue Dunigan







 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




William Shakespeare’s The History of Troilus and Cressida presents a grim picture of war and the world in which it prevails, while the Trojans and Greeks wage untold battles over the exquisite Queen Helen for seven years. At Spring Green’s Up the Hill Theatre last weekend, American Players Theatre premiered a Troilus & Cressida that chilled the audience as much as the Spring Green night air on an August evening.

A play written or performed somewhere between 1600 and 1610, this Shakespeare evening requires a focused audience for the emotionally and intellectually demanding performance. APT stages a dauntless production because of the brutal battle scenes, numerous cast members and lengthy running time, over three hours with intermission. However, for those who attend the performance, the outdoor experience pays magnificent dividends to appreciate the rarely performed play.

The original story culled from history and several outside sources, including perhaps the scripts from the great Greek tragedian Euripides, uncovers the uncouth humanity in gods, goddesses, and the supposed divinity assigned to kings, rulers and war lords. Shakespeare follows the lead in his play that defies a specific genre, with aspects of comedy, history and tragedy that adds a dose of satire to his script when it scrutinizes these famous personas that history admired although were certainly flawed.    

Director William Brown mines the humor in APT’s production, expertly generated in the first act with resident actor James DeVita. He navigates the rough territory as Pandarus, an uncle and Trojan protector of his niece, Cressida. His aging character given little power, Pandarus uses only his clever words and less than heroic deeds to make life right where wrong lies. DeVita proves this when he sings Shakespeare’s very comic/tragic love song: “Love, love nothing but love, still love, still more, “ and eventually convinces a handsome Nate Burger as Prince Troilus to woo Laura Rock appearing as an ambivalent, handsome Cressida. 

Contrast that with Thersites, a superb portrayal of the pitiful Greek acted by La Shawn Banks, who rails that “there’s nothing but war and lechery....to confound all….and love is death, swooning destruction.” His comments spread with spite when Cressida is traded to the Greeks for an important Trojan warrior. Now separated from Troilus, Cressida cavorts with Travis A. Knight’s sexually persuasive Diomedes, to the Prince’s distress.   

The war begins again all for the sake of Helen, who remains in the Trojan Camp, and this feminine/masculine trade only restarts the battle after a false truce. Oaths and vows now break, where words mean little to the deeds eventually done. Words spoken by Achilles, Agamemnon, Ajax, Hector, Paris, Ulysses, Troilus and Cressida, and other god-like persons, played by an superb supporting cast, display there ever despicable personal characteristics that crack through their respectable lives.   

Kevin Asselin’s realistic fight choreography invokes the audience to cringe when swords fly. Rachel Anne Healy’s elegant costume designs, diaphanous gowns ornamented in metallic gilt, meld seamlessly with technical skills from associated lighting, music and sound designers. APT stages a commanding play that dominates an evening as the actors travel the theatre aisles during the performance while the audience watches fitfully.    

In the hours after the performance feeling both discouraged and enthralled, one questions the reasons to why and when do wars attain honor and glory, to justify the resultant destruction? As the curse of Shakespeare’s Pandarus repeats in his epilogue, Shakespeare ponders the perverse in his play to make the audience review war’s consequences and the human condition that lay waste in the aftermath. An exceptional, yet uneasy story APT courageously delivers to their audience.

American Players Theatre presents Troilus & Cressida at the Up the Hill Theatre through October. Please consider dressing appropriately warm for these evenings, a pleasure outdoors under the stars. For further information and tickets, please call 608.588.2361 or click the 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