When you arrive first arrive at the American Players Theatre in Wisconsin you feel as though you've stumbled upon Nick Bottom's acting troupe practicing in the woods in A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's secluded and everything seems tinged with magic. As you wind up a small path, farther and farther into the forest, you find the Up-the-Hill Theatre.
The wide open amphitheater provides stadium seating around an intimate stage. Young and old alike gather there to see productions put on by the professional theater. Even caught in a slight rain, audience members sit enthralled as the stage lights up. This is how Shakespeare's plays were meant to be absorbed, in the open-air, under the stars, performed with passion and humor, not just read from dusty pages.
All's Well That Ends Well
This Shakespearean "comedy" tells the story of the sweet Helena, the daughter of a poor physician. She falls for Bertram, the son of the countess who helped raise her and cleverly devises a plot to win him despite her low stature. Bertram, however, proves unworthy of her love, rejecting her out of his own selfishness.
I've never loved this particular play, always wondering why Helena loved the immature cad to begin with, but Ally Carey's sincere performance as Helena has the audience rooting for her to win her man, even though we know she could do better. She is loyal and devoted, even when Bertram is at his worst.
Jim DeVita steals every scene he's in as the fop Parolles. He plays Bertram's right-hand man as a pompous peacock full of talk, but little action and he is irresistible. He soaks each of his lines with the perfect amount of impetuous cheek, wringing out every ounce of humor that Shakespeare intended.
The costumes are beautifully detailed. Everything from the soldiers' medals to the ladies' jewelry. And enough cannot be said about the beautiful ambiance that the forest itself provides. When the trees are lit up around the stage, the effect is breathtaking.
Waiting For Godot
Samuel Beckett's famous play has inspired dozen of interpretations since its premier in 1953. Whatever your opinions of it may be, this particular version provides equal doses of laughter to balance out the bleaker bits.
Two tramps Vladimir, played by James Ridge, and Jim DeVita as Estragon, putter onto the stage and quickly the audience is sucked into their strange co-dependent relationship. They are waiting... for Godot, and while doing so they try to pass the time in a myriad of ways. They are both clearly miserable, but they seem to find solace in each other's company.
Ridge and DeVita have a lovely chemistry, complementing each other by remaining calm when the other is frantic. They provide a steady stream of troubled dialogue and physical comedy. Both men are worrisome creatures, frequently puzzled by their neurotic thoughts.
The audience never knows why they are waiting and really, that's not important. What matters is their struggle to make it through each day and to prove to themselves that they actually exist. They seem trapped in a repetitive cycle of confusing monotony. Godot will leave you pondering its meanings and reflecting on the brilliance of the cast long after you've left the theater.
On a side note, it was a delight to have a chance to see DeVita perform two very different roles within 24 hours. His range and talent are inspiring. The Indiana Repertory Theatre has included a play that DeVita wrote and will star in, "In Acting Shakespeare," as part of its upcoming season. I can hardly wait to see him in action again.
The Syringa Tree
What can I say about this one-woman show starring Colleen Madden? I was so deeply moved by the performance that I, along with most of the audience, was brought to tears, yet at the same time the show is peppered with humor.
From the opening moments the production is memorizing. The simple stage is set with only a single swing and scraps of colorful fabric. The subject matter is intense, the acting outstanding and the simplicity of the set and costume compliment those aspects perfectly, never distracting, only enhancing.
We see much of the story through the eyes of Elizabeth, a young white girl growing up in South Africa during the apartheid. She sees no race, only people she loves, whether they are her loving parents or gentle nanny, Salamina. Her naivete mirrors the brilliance of similar stories, like To Kill a Mockingbird, which allow a horrific story to be told by a narrator free of prejudices.
Madden plays two dozen different characters throughout the show, including both men and women of all ages and races. Yet her skill as an actress never allows a second of confusion about who she is at any given moment. Her voice booms as a black chieftain and murmurs primly as Elizabeth's mother. With the simplest hand motion or tilt of her head she slips between the characters, weaving a rich tapestry of love and oppression.
What I learned during my first visit to the APT is that you're in for a treat no matter what you see. Each of the shows were exceptional productions in their own way and I can't wait to return.
The American Players Theatre is closed for its regular season. It will host a special holiday show, Gift of the Magi, from Nov. 26 - Dec. 19 at its indoor Touchstone Theatre.
The theater's outdoor seats are comfortable, but definitely bring a jacket, rain parka or blanket depending on the weather. The show will go on even if it's chilly or drizzling. There are easily accessible restrooms and concessions at both the Up-the-Hill Theatre and the Touchstone Theatre.
There are plenty of camping/B&B/cabin/hotel options nearby, depending on your preference. You can find additional information about where to lodge, restaurants and other attractions on APT's website.
For more information about APT and Spring Green, WI visit its website. Spring Green, Wi is only 6.5 hours from Indianapolis and makes a perfect weekend getaway.
Photos Courtesy of the American Players Theatre.