August 23, 2012

AMERICAN PLAYERS THEATRE: Troilus and Cressida, Skylight and Twelfth Night

 

There’s always something new and exciting at the American Players Theatre in Wisconsin and this season is no exception. APT’s core players never disappoint and the younger performers provides a wonderful suffusion of energy and passion to each production.


One of the best aspects of APT is the way it highlights its performers in multiple shows throughout each season. At any given time audience members can see a single performer in a modern drama, a Shakespearean comedy and a tragedy in the same weekend. Both Brian Mani and Greta Wohlrabe performed in all three shows I was able to see. They showed their comedic side in Twelfth Night, took on tragic roles in Troilus and Cressida and then portrayed the complex relationship between former lovers in Skylight. APT defies typecasting, allowing its performers to stretch and grow with each role, juggling multiple shows each season with apparent ease.


APT always does a fantastic job with each element in its shows. The sets, whether it’s walls of lovely iron gates and climbing ivy or a chilly apartment with laundry scattered about, they fit the mood of each show to perfection. The costumes are the same; rich leather and velvet period dress or Greek battle armor, they never disappoint.

Troilus and Cressida

“She is a pearl, whose price hath launch'd above a thousand ships.”

The story of the Trojan War and the beautiful Helen is well-known, but this Shakespearean tragedy about it is not. Troilus and Cressida is the story of two young Trojans caught in the midst of a nation at war. Despite being surrounded by the problems of others they find themselves falling in love. Troilus is the brother of the infamous warrior Hector and the lovesick Paris who ran away with the married Helen, incurring the wrath of the Greeks. It’s rare to find productions of this show, so for true devotees of the Bard they’re a treat.

The entire play is filled with passionate declarations of both love and war. The Greeks, like King Agamemnon and the hotheaded Ajax, are itching for a fight. Ajax doesn’t realize until too late that he is only a pawn in the hands of the generals. The Trojans on the other hand aren’t sure how they want to respond. Paris wants to defend Helen’s honor, but his older brother Hector has to decide if she is worth the fall of an entire nation. From his opening scene he has an impossible task. He knows the right thing to do in theory, but the obligations of honor and family loyalty prevent him from doing it.


 

The production is full to the brim with a remarkable supporting cast. From the tragic Cassandra, whose prophetic wails go unheeded to Pandarus (James Devita), Cressida’s uncle the meddling matchmaker. The show also requires some seriously well-choreographed battle scenes. With such a large cast, each swing of the sword must be perfectly timed and executed.

The title may be Troilus and Cressida, but that’s really a misnomer. While their romance is sweet, it’s truly the story of the Trojan War and the dicey decisions that warriors must face in battle. What is a single life worth? For Achilles, his love for one man is enough to make him fight or to stay his hand. For the love of his brothers Hector is willing to pick up his sword. The tragedy of war is that it’s a cyclical game; one death always leads to the desire for vengeance from the other side. Grief and bloodshed fuel only more of the same and this play is a poignant reminder of that.



Skylight

We open on a small English flat with a small kitchen and a faulty heater. This intimate play by David Hare provides a glimpse into the lives of three English people. Completely unknown to us at first, we slowly realize how the three cast members lives are intertwined.

When we meet them Kyra and Tom have a complicated past and no idea what the future holds. Although they haven’t seen each other in years, the pair quickly falls back into their established roles. They bring out both the best and worst in each other, challenging the other’s perspectives in a love/hate dynamic that you can’t look away from. Together they reminisce about their early days, the happenstance that made their paths cross and the things that kept them apart or together.



Greta Wohlrabe plays Kyra with fervent restraint. She hints at both her happiness and pain, rarely allowing her outer shell to break. She spends much of the first half of the show cooking and bustling about so she doesn’t have to open up.

Tom is more of an open book. Brian Mani embraces the role of the posh business man who has become accustomed to getting his way. He’s unused to feelings of guilt or grief ruling his life and he’s unsure of how to deal with them.

The play provides an in-depth study of the influence people have on each other’s futures. Our lives can never touch those around us with leaving lasting impressions and we affect the lives we touch both by our presence and our absence. We never truly forget or loose the people who are important to us.



Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is the height of Shakespearean comedies: mistaken identities, disguises, pranks and unrequited love. The play contains some of Shakespeare’s best lines, some of his most hilarious scenes and the perfect hopeless love triangle.

Olivia is grieving her recently deceased brother and the Duke Orsino is attempting to woo her. Meanwhile, Viola and her twin brother are shipwrecked and separated in the fray. Viola disguises herself as a man and decides to work for Orsino, whom she promptly falls in love with. While Viola is delivering a message of love to Olivia from Orsino, Olivia falls in love with Viola, who is disguised as a man. Misunderstanding upon misunderstanding compounds the confusion until, like a magic trick, the perfect string is pulled and all is revealed in a moment. It’s an absolute delight.

In this year’s cast we find many performers from the Indiana Repertory Theatre. The much-loved Mark Goetzinger appears as a potential suitor. Three members of the cast of last year’s IRT play Fallen Angels, including Cristina Panfilio, Eric Parks and Steve Haggard also appear in APT’s shows.



Panfilio is wonderful as the earnest Viola, bumbling through the actions of a male, but unable to hide her budding love for her employer. In many scenes she says more with her pauses and facial expressions than with her words.

Greta Wohlrabe appears again as Olivia’s sassy maid who conspires with Brian Mani, a Falstaff-esque relative of Olivia’s, to trick the preening fool Malvolio. The two make a great pair and have fun with the bawdy roles.


I love all Shakespeare’s tongue-in-cheek references to his other works which he sprinkles throughout his plays. This one contains a nod to Troilus and Cressida, a Midsummer Night’s madness and there’s even a line saying, oh if this scene was to be played out on a stage! Shakespeare’s playful jabs remind you that he knew his audience and what they would love and much of it still holds true with audiences today.

**There are adult themes and language in Skylight and Troilus and Cressida. Twelfth Night would definitely be the best bet for a younger audience.
More Information:

The American Players Theatre is open until October 21 for its regular season. It will host a special holiday show, Gift of the Magi, this winter 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.