PSA: American Players Theatre 2022 Season: Summer Into Fall!

And this season will be like seasons of yore, as plays will run in repertory all season long. And once again we can glory in the classics at the Hill Theatre and taste some tantalizing new plays at the Touchstone. Here is a brief outline of what lies ahead amongst the trees and prairie, cicadas and swallows, and summer breezes and moon light…and here’s the link to the APTs web information.

At the Hill:

The Rivals

By Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Directed by Aaron Posner

June 11 – September 17

Lydia Languish is bound and determined to marry only for love, a situation that she expects (and hopes) will land her in the poor house. This causes a conundrum for the wealthy Jack Absolute, who is in love with Lydia, but doesn’t meet the requirements of being destitute. So to woo her, Jack takes on the persona of Ensign Beverly, a poor enlisted man. But Lydia’s aunt, Mrs. Malaprop (a literary icon) can never allow such a love connection, setting the couple and their cohort off in a hilarious comedy of manners that APT hits right in the sweet spot.

Jane Austen’s

Sense and Sensibility

Adapted by Jessica Swale

Directed by Marti Lyons

June 17 – October 9

When the well-off Henry Dashwood passes away, his estate, by law, goes to his eldest son, John, leaving Henry’s second wife and three daughters – young Margaret, tempestuous Marianne and reserved Elinor – with no home, and little income. Those are high stakes for women in the early 1800s, and the ladies are forced to rely on the kindness of the good-hearted (and gossipy) Middletons. Though times are hard, the sisters meet many new friends along the way, and soon Marianne and Elinor find that, while love is easy enough to fall into, it can be a hard emotion to negotiate when your family and future are on the line. A charming romance from Jane Austen. Originally slated for the 2020 season.


By William Shakespeare

Directed by James DeVita

June 24 – October 8

Returning home from school after the death of his father and rapid remarriage of his mother to his uncle, Hamlet is pondering his options. Did his uncle, Claudius, murder his father? How much does his mother, Gertrude, know about the perceived crime? How far will the young prince go while investigating, and who will pay the price for what he finds? Family bonds balance on the head of a pin, as the collective father-son relationship pulses through every word; a play that revels in contradictions and defies categorization, last seen at APT in 2013.

A Raisin in the Sun

By Lorraine Hansberry

Directed by Tasia A. Jones

August 5 – October 7

On the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s, the Youngers have lost their patriarch. But with this tragedy comes a rare financial gain for the family – a $10,000 insurance payment that could change their lives and fulfill dreams long postponed. As the family dynamics spin, it soon becomes clear that everyone has different ideas about how the money should be used, causing divisions, dishonesty and mistrust. A stunning classic that examines the ways racism suppresses the lives and aspirations of Black families.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Brenda DeVita

August 12 – October 2

An early Shakespeare comedy returns to our stage for the first time in two decades. The King of Navarre and his three companions, Berowne, Dumaine and Longaville, commit themselves to three years of hard study with no distractions. To firm up his resolve, the King declares that no woman will be allowed within a mile of the court. When a French Princess arrives with her attendants, Rosaline, Maria and Katherine, the men immediately regret their oath in this fun and satisfying summer Shakespeare. Originally slated for the 2020 season.

In the Touchstone:

The River Bride

By Marisela Treviño Orta

Directed by Robert Ramirez

June 17 – September 30

Helena’s feelings about her sister Belmira’s wedding to Duarte are complicated, much like her relationships with both Belmira and Duarte themselves. But Helena’s thoughts are redirected when her father literally fishes a mysterious man out of the Amazonian river, sending everyone’s plans into upheaval in this riveting fable about the complexities of love. Originally slated for the 2020 season.

The Brothers Size

By Tarell Alvin McCraney

Directed by Gavin Lawrence

June 28 – October 8

In the Louisiana bayou, Ogun Size is the hardworking and steady brother to the younger Oshoosi. Ogun worries constantly about his brother, who’s fresh out of jail, restless and aimless. When Elegba, Oshoosi’s old prison-mate arrives with a gift, their relationship is thrown out of balance. Influenced by the rich culture of the Yoruba people of West Africa, this contemporary tale begins in ritual and evolves into a tough and tender drama of what it means to brother and be brothered. Combining flights of poetry, music and dance, The Brothers Size explores the tenuousness of freedom and the need to belong. Originally slated for the 2020 season.

The Moors

By Jen Silverman

Directed by Keira Fromm

August 13 – October 9

A young governess arrives at a remote manor after exchanging semi-romantic correspondence with one mysterious Mr. Branwell. But when the door opens, the only residents of the house seem to be Branwell’s two sisters, a maid (or maybe two maids?) and a lovelorn mastiff. And no man to be found, or child to be cared for. An inspired, whimsical satire that both embraces and sends up the gothic musings of the Brontë sisters; a play the New York Times called “…the reason we go to theater.”

Stones in His Pockets

By Marie Jones

Directed by Tim Ocel

October 27 – November 20

Two down-on-their-luck men in a down-on-its-luck Irish town are given what they hope is a chance at the good life. Jake and Charlie have been cast as extras in a Hollywood movie – a shaft of light through the clouds of their dreary rural existence. Like most sets, this one is rife with drama on stage and off – some hilarious and some heartbreaking – as the American cast and crew try to immerse themselves in Jake and Charlie’s culture, and vice-versa. A two-hander with each actor playing multiple characters in this unique and enthralling tragicomedy. Originally slated for the 2020 season.

Tickets on sale to returning patrons March 21.
On sale to the general public May 2.

AND: most of the other amenities we have grown to appreciate will be returning this season as well: picnic offerings, play talks, tours, art in the woods, and more! Information on opportunities to enhance your play attendance and opportunities to enjoy the other APT events!

This is going to be an exciting and challenging season to experience…and I am so looking forward to it!

American Players Theatre’s New Treatment Of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”!

Yes, that old chestnut! The O. Henry classic that every English teacher across America used to teach us about irony! This isn’t the telling that you will remember from your sophomore year in high school. But we won’t need spoiler alerts either. This adaptation by James DeVita and Josh Schmidt brings us new light and life in their telling through story and song (and dance)! So sit back and relax…and yes this is a musical!

We open in Della and Jim’s apartment…a simply furnished tenement apartment which is the locus of the play and all of the drama and song will work around it. Scenic designer Madelyn Yee has given us a complex little environment, in the APT’s Touchstone Theatre, that serves as not only home, but brings the ambiance of the neighborhood to bear. And there is just enough space to support the real world interactions outside their home and a secure platform for the two musicians who will provide the evening’s accompaniment for our actors!

cellist Alicia Storin and musician/busker Hilary Caldwell; photo by Liz Lauren and courtesy of the American Players Theatre

So first we meet our cellist and in the first scene our violist…and then the other character that we weren’t quite expecting, Brian Mani as O. Henry! And these three, under director Malkia Stampley, deftly set the mood, set the stage, set the time. And then!

Marcus Truschinski as Jim, Kelsey Brennan as Della; photo by Liz Lauren and courtesy of American Players Theatre

We meet Della, played by Kelsey Brennan, and Jim, played by Marcus Truschinski, a young couple thoroughly saturated in their love for each other. They bring these characters to a fresh and believable life and you never doubt their devotion to one another. And the songs and dance pieces bring this all to life; front and center. Yes, this is far more fun than anyone would have anticipated if only remembering our old lessons.

front and center: Brian Mani as O. Henry, with Marcus Truschinski as Jim (left) and Kelsey Brennan as Della; photo by Liz Lauren and courtesy of American Players Theatre

And who exactly is O. Henry? Well in this play he starts out as the narrator but becomes a stage director, interlocutor, butcher, tailor, etc, etc, etc. With a doff of a hat or the addition of an apron, Mr. Mani becomes any and every other character that Della and Jim meet along this journey…all without ever really surrendering his persona as O. Henry. Deftly done Mr. Mani!

But despite all the nuance and fleshing out that Mr. DeVita and Mr. Schmidt have provided for our story, they can not change how the story ends. So yes, we come to that fateful Christmas Eve filled with eager anticipation by both Della and Jim until the reality of life comes crashing in. So there will still be that lump in your throat and a possible tear in your eye…but love will win out! Again!

by The cast of The Gift of the Magi; photo by Liz Lauren and courtesy of the American Players Theatre

Let earth receive her king…

The Gift of the Magi is playing from now until December 19, 2021 at the American Players Theater Touchstone Theatre in Spring Green Wisconsin. Or you can enjoy it like I did via their streaming service, APT at Home: Click here for details!

American Players Theatre: Taming of the Shrew and other thoughts…

I first discovered the performed Shakespeare vis a PBS airing of Hamlet from the BBC. Very serious, very traditional, right up my alley. That was followed by the BBC’s Age of Kings, their also very traditional take on Shakespeare’s history plays.

But ever since then theater groups have ever more often felt the need to make Shakespeare relevant or enticing to ‘modern audiences’ by changing the locations, eras, dialects, or costuming to bring a certain freshness I guess. Does it work? Sometimes.

So when this presentation of the Taming of the Shrew opened with a bit of a choreographed mime, I braced for the worst. The five actors came out in brightly colored slick silk-like suits and Mario brothers mustaches dancing round and round making rude gestures and displaying nefarious faces. I feared that Verona was moving to Sicily with made men and mobbed up accents or a Las Vegas dinner show version of the play or worse yet…Shrew: The Musical!

But I needn’t have feared…but we get straight away English pronunciations that allow us to follow the story and dialogue.

And a wonderful phantasmagoria of costumes that define the characters but don’t quite put us in a particular place or era! This worked wonderfully well through out.

And of course in a post BLM world, theaters are re-evaluating their selection process of plays and playwrights, their casting choices, and how they present their selections. This isn’t a sea change for the American Players Theatre. They have been aware of the artistic advantages of diversity for some time. And over the past few years they have been bold in choices in casting and directorial assignments. All to the good!

And in the perceived post pandemic era, theaters have been strapped for revenue, and are doing more with less. And that often means slimmer cast lists and here the Taming of the Shrew makes due with five actors for essentially nine named roles and other sub-characters. This isn’t unusual and actors often play more than one role, particularly if the characters are underlings or don’t appear in the same scenes.

One of APT’s 2021 plays worked with multiple roles of even principal characters very well and that was Cymbeline! And in a sort of turn about is fair play, all of the actors in Cymbeline were women.

screen capture from video by Ed Heinzelman

But at what point are fewer actors too few actors? I am thinking that this presentation of Taming of the Shrew may have stepped over that threshold.

Why? Because by their hats you shall know them. Well in the early going, I was more than a little confused as James Ridge moved about the stage from one pose to another, obviously in conversation, but talking to the hat in his hand. Well it quickly dawned on me that Mr. Ridge was playing three characters…a major principal, Baptista, his own daughter, Bianca, and one of her suitors, Grumio. So you had to be careful…which hat was he wearing? That was the character speaking. Which hat was he holding? That is the other party to the conversation. And obviously Baptista and Bianca have major speaking parts throughout. It did get a bit easier but no less unnerving, when Mr. Ridge opened his jacket while portraying Bianca to reveal his bustier underneath.

This is just a slight quibble for me…and despite enjoying APT’s very effective cross-gender casting, something didn’t quite feel right about Colleen Madden’s Tranio’s impersonation of Lucentio. Ms. Madden played it to the hilt but I just couldn’t get my head around it and sometimes lost the sense that she was playing a male character.

Alejandra Escalante was simply marvelous as Katherine, the ‘shrew’ of the title. Ms. Escalante portrays the character with a certain grace beyond the behavior we’ve come to expect from this part. And she provides some very human moments on her wedding day when Petruchio is decidedly and intentionally late.

And Daniel Jose Molina is the matching and appropriate foil as Petruchio! And the interaction of Petruchio and Katherine as directed by Shana Cooper takes some of the edge off the misogyny inherent to these roles without ever making light of it. ‘Tis the mind that makes the body rich. Yes indeed.

Yes this play is still misogynistic and paternalistic in many ways and without gutting Shakespeare or not performing it at all, directors and casts will need to represent it in an appropriate manner. I think that Ms. Cooper accomplished much here.

This has nothing to do with the performance…but with a 21st Century lens…rather than being a ‘shrew’ does the text support Katherine having a mental illness or some form of Asperger’s or other illness. Can that be played to?

I watched the American Player’s Theatre production The Taming of the Shrew via their streaming At Home option. All photos are courtesy of APT and were downloaded from their website except as noted.