By Mary Boyle
Every Summer, I write an article about Shakespeare in the Park that always includes American Players Theatre; but, APT is so much more than Shakespeare in the Park. With its 1,089 seat outdoor theater known as The Hill situated in the beautiful driftless region of Spring Green, Wisconsin, APT is the second largest outdoor theater in the country, after The Muny of St. Louis. This is where Wisconsin's finest actors come to play in the woods, and where you will see some of the best live theatre in the state. Whether you are a theatre fanatic or just looking for a nearby weekend getaway, a visit to Spring Green and APT is just the ticket.
Devoted to the classics, APT always has at least one or two works by the Bard. This season, they take on the rarely staged LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST and Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, HAMLET. Being a bit of a rabid Shakespeare fan, myself, I made sure to see these two productions. With the Regency period being all the rage, and being a Jane Austen fan, I also had to see SENSE & SENSIBILITY. Finally, just for pure fun, I chose THE RIVALS. The only disappointment from my weekend was that the rain caused me to miss the second half of S&S, and though LLL was interrupted by the weather, it was worth the hour wait to see the rest. From casting to costumes to set design, APT is at the top of their game.
I was particularly excited to see Love's Labour's Lost, as I have never had the opportunity; in fact, it's been two decades since APT has done it. Directed by Brenda DeVita, the production is brilliantly set in the 1950's at the "University" of Navarre, where a group of steadfast male students solemly vow to apply themselves to their studies so loyally that they swear off even the presence of any females for the next three years. This, of course, is just before an evenly matched group of determined ladies show up on the University's doorstep, resulting in the expected hijinks. This one is perfection, but I would be remiss if I didn't note Josh Krause as Dull, the Constable, who steals the show, as he so often does. While watching this wonderfully funny and witty production, you will wonder why this particular tale isn't staged more often, but you will find your answer at the end. See it, anyway, and hurry – Love's Labour's Lost only runs through October 2nd .
Then, just when you think you couldn't possibly see a better version of Hamlet than the filmed National Theatre production starring Benedict Cumberbatch, APT shows up. The ghost king is formidable and terrifying, Horatio is cast as a woman, and Nate Burger plays the role of Hamlet so brilliantly, it is a joy to behold. Directed by James DeVita, this is another very strong cast, but I particularly loved Chiké Johnson's take on Polonius. The stark, gritty set design and lighting by Takeshi Kata and Jason Fassl truly makes the production. Sure, you may have seen Hamlet a few times, but you've never seen one like this. You have until October 8th, and I can't think of a better ghost story to kick off your October with.
Who doesn't love Jane Austen?! When Mr. Dashwood passes, Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters are quite destitute after being thrown out of their own home in Sussex by their Uncle John and his horrible wife, Fanny. As they adjust to their new, and much poorer, life in Devonshire, their new neighbor, Mrs. Jennings, makes it her mission to get the young ladies married off. Directed by Marti Lyons, Sense & Sensibility is sweet, funny and, dare I say, terribly romantic. Marcus Truschinski as Colonel Brandon could not be any more awkward and heartbreaking. Fans of Austen, the Regency era, or hopeless romantics, this one's for you; you have until October 9th.
Now, what can I say about The Rivals? This one reminds me of last season's Rough Crossing, with Josh Krause in a very similar role with hysterical results; at any rate, The Rivals is three hours of clever, laugh-out-loud fun. Directed by Aaron Posner and written in 1775 by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the great Irish satirist, poet, playwright and owner of Drury Lane, the rivals are all of the men who are trying to win the hand of one Miss Lydia Languish, who can't possibly wed Captain Jack Abolute, the man her Aunt Malaprop wishes her to wed, but insists on marrying Ensign Beverly, a man of no means, wealth or name and with whom she's infatuated with. The funny thing is, they're the same man. The highlight of this show is James Ridge, who is in his comedic element as Sir Lucious O'Trigger (seriously, watch for the little Irish jigs he throws in – it's priceless!). This one only runs through September 17th, so you really need to get on it.
Also at The Hill this season is Lorraine Hansberry's classic, A RAISIN IN THE SUN, which runs through October 7th. American Players Theatre is also home to an intimate indoor theater called The Touchstone, where you can see THE BROTHERS SIZE by Tarell Alvin McCraney, THE RIVER BRIDE by Marisela Treviño Orta, THE MOORS by Jen Siverman, and STONES IN HIS POCKETS by Marie Jones, which ends the season on November 20th.
For more information and to purchase tickets, go to: americanplayers.org/ or call the Box Office at 608-588-2361.
Know Before You Go
What to do in Spring Green
Spring Green is the home of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, as well as the iconic Wisconsin attraction, House on the Rock. Spring Green, itself, is an adorable little main street community with some lovely shops and restaurants; I highly recommend making a stop at Arcadia Books and the Last Leaf Public House. There are also two State Parks nearby: Tower Hill and Governor Dodge.
For the history buffs, you can see two State Historical Sites just a bit further south down 151: in historic Mineral Point you can see Pendarvis, and you will find the First Capitol in Belmont. There's also historic Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, where you can check out the trollway and visit the nearby Cave of the Mounds.