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‘The Maids’ at American Players Theatre: Dressing up and getting down, sans laughter

Aug 26, 2017 – 2:02 pm
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Review: In Jean Genet’s bleak existential drama “The Maids,” two young women, sisters and live-in house maids to the same mistress, secretly turn the tables in an ominous fantasy life about power and subservience. A noir study in delusional role-playing and its dark consequences, “The Maids” is on fascinating display at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis.. ★★★

Summer 2016 at American Players Theatre: It’s high drama, comedy where ardor meets Arden

Jun 16, 2016 – 7:55 pm
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Preview: It’s like seeing Shakespeare in the Forest of Arden, this bucolic Wisconsin festival that bears the name of American Players Theatre. Set in the rolling hills of Spring Green, just west of Madison, American Players has been producing stellar – literally star-covered – theater every summer since 1980. This summer APT juxtaposes Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” with Carlyle Brown’s “The African Company Presents Richard III.” Those timely spirits are already in flight, with many more plays to come. Here’s an overview.

American Players Theatre announces 37th Summer Festival June 3 – Oct. 16, 2016

Jan 27, 2016 – 5:00 pm
Up the Hill venue at American Players Theatre

This Just In: The following is from a news release written by an arts organization.
American Players Theatre announces 37th Summer Festival Season June 3 – October 16, 2016
Diverse lineup of eight classical and contemporary works
Return of …

‘An Iliad’ at American Players Theatre: Of rage, ruin and the cherished legacy of endless wars

Aug 4, 2015 – 10:36 am
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Review: Rage, beyond expression or reason or appeasement, rips through the timeless modernity of “An Iliad,” the dramatic distillation of Homer’s epic by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare that now echoes against the near walls of an intimate space at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis. This fraught opus of glory and gore bristles in the one voice but many personas of Jim DeVita, playing the Poet who frames the perpetual folly of war in the single appalling, ever repeating travesty that was Troy. ★★★★★

Under new director, American Players Theatre shows changed outlook with Mamet opener

Jun 14, 2014 – 8:07 am
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Preview: As if running up a banner announcing its annexation of the New World – where, of course, it is located – the classically oriented American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis., opens its 2014 summer with a new commitment to Americana, leading off with no less bracing a representative than David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.”

‘Hamlet’ at American Players Theatre: Agony and wit, and clear view of a timeless tragedy

Sep 1, 2013 – 5:49 pm
Matt Schwader is Hamlet at the American Players Theatre 2013 (Carissa Dixon)

Review: As summer turns into fall, it’s worth making time to catch Chicago actor Matthew Schwader as that restlessly inquisitive and acid wit, Hamlet, who comes magisterially unhinged in Shakespeare’s masterwork. “Hamlet” is enjoying a gloriously long reign at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, WI. ★★★★★

‘Molly Sweeney’ at American Players Theatre: From gentle darkness, a voyage to rough light

Aug 6, 2013 – 5:07 pm
Colleen Madden as a blind woman who sees differently in Brian Friel's 'Molly Sweeney' at American Players Theatre 2013 (Carissa Dixon)

Review: She is a perfectly happy lady, Molly Sweeney. Though blind since early childhood, she’s content in her soul, and wondrously in touch with the world, which she views – through the tactile, auditory and aromatic senses – as very much hers. Then her husband and a once-celebrated eye surgeon convince her that an operation could open up unimagined vistas of bliss. That’s the harrowing thrust of Brian Friel’s intimate tragedy “Molly Sweeney,” delivered with equal parts of sensitivity and irony and shattering impact at American Players Theatre.. ★★★★

American Players Theatre offers Shakespeare, Friel, Stoppard in a festival mix in the woods

Jun 14, 2013 – 11:40 pm
Colleen Madden in Molly Sweeney at American Players Theatre credit Zane Williams

Preview: What’s in a name? American Players Theatre, which has been filling summers with drama since 1980 in the woods of Spring Green, Wis., doesn’t trade on the Shakespeare brand. But in every aspect of making theater, from staging to vocal delivery to its choice of plays, this ambitious enterprise hews to the Bard as its reference point. In the 2013 mix of eight plays, which opens June 15, APT includes a typical infusion of Shakespeare, a stylistic sweep from “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “Hamlet” to “Antony and Cleopatra.”

‘Richard III’ looses a venomous schemer on summer stage of American Players Theatre

Jul 9, 2012 – 4:21 pm
Richard III American Players Theatre 2012 James Ridge as Richard David Daniel as Buckingham credit Carissa Dixon

A snake in the palace. 4 stars!

‘Pericles’ at American Players: Through crazy accents, keeping the Bard’s rhyme and reason

Sep 18, 2017 – 9:19 am
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Review: To use Shakespeare and farce in the same sentence is almost certainly to think of “The Comedy of Errors,” and maybe patches of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Probably not, however, the late romantic adventure tale “Pericles, Prince of Tyre.” But it is precisely a generous infusion of over-the-top silliness that makes such endearing stuff of “Pericles” at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis. ★★★★

‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ at American Players: Rostand’s sad hero, captured in lyric depth

Aug 10, 2017 – 6:47 am
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Review: In a transcendent night under the stars in APT’s newly refurbished al fresco venue, the three-and-a-half-hour drive from Chicago to the theater, nestled in rolling hills about 30 miles west of Madison, was repaid amply by James Ridge’s complex embodiment of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Here is Cyrano in his full flesh and spirit: lyric poet, matchless swordsman and, above all else, unrequited lover, a man whose many gifts stitched together cannot veil the defeating protuberance that is his formidable nose. ★★★★★

American Players set to dedicate a new stage after $8 million renovation of outdoor venue

Jun 17, 2017 – 11:55 am
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Preview: At the outset of its 38th season, American Players Theatre has the look of a company starting afresh. Its 2017 summer at Spring Green, Wis., about 30 miles west of Madison, opens on a brand-new stage, the centerpiece of an $8 million renovation of both production and public facilities. “Our theater was literally falling down,” says APT artistic director Brenda DeVita. “This renewal has given us, and our audience, a theater that is better is so many ways.”

‘Pride and Prejudice’ at American Players: Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, with charm and brevity

Aug 19, 2015 – 12:10 am
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Review: You can’t blame an audience for lapping it up: Skilled and familiar actors playing beloved characters in a story so cherished that everyone can pretty much recite along. But that doesn’t necessarily make for memorable theater. Witness the American Players Theatre stage version of Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice” at Spring Green, Wis. ★★★

‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ at American Players: Shakespeare’s fat Falstaff and some lusty LOL

Aug 15, 2015 – 7:03 am
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Review: If the delight of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” lies in the sparring between that fat, delusional romantic Sir John Falstaff and a raft of characters determined to rub his nose in reality, this broad comedy ultimately hangs on two hooks, and the rollicking production at American Players Theatre delivers them both at Spring Green, Wis. ★★★★

‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ at American Players: Estwhile beauty meets beast, and he’s not kind

Jul 16, 2015 – 8:43 pm
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Review: She is a fascinating character, indeed one of the iconic personas in all of theater, Blanche DuBois, the fallen Southern belle of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The undying question is, Why? What’s so intriguing about this dame with the checkered past? Perhaps it’s her vulnerability, or her delusion, or her sheer refusal to go quietly into middle-aged oblivion. I think that’s the thing, her feisty pluck, that makes Tracy Michelle Arnold’s Blanche so compelling at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis. ★★★★★

From al fresco staging of Williams’ ‘Streetcar,’ American Players promise summer of surprises

Jun 12, 2015 – 12:23 am
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Preview: In her second summer as artistic director of American Players Theatre, Brenda Devita can claim her fingerprints alone on the scheme of eight widely ranging plays that will run in repertory well into the autumn. And DeVita embraces that authorship with pride, starting with the company’s first go at Tennessee Williams’ monumental tragedy “A Streetcar Named Desire.” “We’re taking it outdoors,” she says, referring to the starry-domed 1,148-seat Up-the-Hill Theatre.

Oscar Wilde’s ‘Earnest’ at American Players: Much ado about manners, wit and attire

Aug 6, 2014 – 6:29 pm
John, aka Earnest (Matt Schwader) is smitten by Gwendolen (Cristina Panfilio). (Carissa Dixon)

Review: Perhaps it’s because theater companies and audiences have always taken to heart Oscar Wilde’s subtitle for “The Importance of Being Earnest” that this silly, precious comedy of manners has remained a repertory fixture since its premiere in the Victorian world of 1895. Wilde slyly dubbed his play “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People,” and its triviality is indeed embraced seriously in this summer’s amusing romp at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis. ★★★★

Juliet shines sun-bright in American Players’ earthy view of Shakespeare tragedy

Jul 2, 2014 – 2:41 pm
It's love at first sight for Juliet (Melisa Pereyra) and her Romeo (Christopher Sheard). (Carissa Dixon)

Review: Care as we may for the oft love-struck young swain in Shakespeare’s great tragedy “Romeo and Juliet,” it is Juliet whose desperate predicament holds our hearts in thrall. A successful staging requires, above all else, an irresistible Juliet, radiant indeed as the eastern sun, and American Players Theatre’s affecting summer run boasts just such a blazing star in Melisa Pereyra. ★★★★

Taking 35th-season turn to American classics, American Players hit core of Mamet

Jun 30, 2014 – 9:23 am
Teach-James-Ridge-shares-his-suspicions-with-Donny-Brian-Mani-in-American-Buffalo-by-David-Mamet-at-American-Players-Theatre 2014.-Zane-Williams

Review: As if to signal rebirth at the outset of its 35th season, American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis., under new artistic director Brenda DeVita, has widened its scope beyond classic European fare to include the masterpieces of American theater. It could scarcely have dived more boldly into that pool, or more artfully, than with its sharp-edged and idiomatic production of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” ★★★★★

‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ lights the open sky with crisp mirth at American Players

Jul 29, 2013 – 10:12 pm
Buddies Valentine (Travis A. Knight) and Proteus (Marcus Truschinski) become rivals in love in The Two Gentlemen of Verona at APT 2013 (Zane Williams)

Review: Traditional criticism hasn’t been altogether kind to Shakespeare’s early comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” which is often portrayed as a workshop effort that set the stage for the Bard’s later, more sophisticated riffs on the madness of love. But this summer’s sharply drawn, energetic and sly production at American Players Theatre makes a savvy, satisfying case for a comedy worth catching. ★★★★

Da capo al fine, sharply accented ‘Bernstein’ sketches life of a great American conductor

Nov 10, 2011 – 7:12 pm
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Maestro at the Royal George. 3 stars

Role Playing: Cristina Panfilio spreads wings she didn’t know she had as midsummer Puck

Sep 7, 2017 – 10:55 pm
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Interview: Cristina Panfilio, the disarmingly sly and funny – and athletic! – Puck in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at American Players Theatre, didn’t see it coming. The role of the mischievous fairy sprite with magical powers is normally played by a male actor.  When director John Langs phoned her and cold-pitched her the part, she was flattered, of course. The Chicago-based actress was also overwhelmed by the thought.

In magical return to its birth, APT embraces human heart of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Aug 31, 2017 – 8:38 am
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Review: Is there a better way to fall under the spell of Shakespeare than through “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”? Not if it’s the current production under the stars by American Players Theatre, which will get the job done for ages 7 to 97 at the least. The company is but an afternoon’s drive from Chicago into the Wisconsin woods near Madison, and the actors – more than a few of them based in Chicago – are uniformly proficient at finding the human warmth in Shakespeare’s comedy and making it clear in minute detail. ★★★★★

Role Playing: Tracy Michelle Arnold debunks madness as force that drives Blanche DuBois

Aug 31, 2015 – 5:55 pm
Tracy Arnold

Interview: Tracy Michelle Arnold, who portrays a feisty and resourceful Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” at American Players Theatre, doesn’t buy the common perception of this embattled woman as “a crazy person.” Arnold sees Blanche as a scarred fighter who never gives up her struggle to survive, even at the end.

Role Playing: James Ridge thrives in cold skin of Shakespeare’s smiling serpent, Richard III

Aug 29, 2012 – 8:45 pm
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Interview: He’s the very devil in the guise of a cherub, this smiling and murderous Richard III embodied by James Ridge in the American Players Theatre production of Shakespeare’s royal tragedy. Ridge’s duplicitous Richard echoes Lady Macbeth’s cold counsel to Macbeth in his own bloody quest for a crown: “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t.”

Role Playing: Lawrence Grimm found Lincoln first in pages of history, then within himself

Oct 20, 2017 – 1:03 pm
Lawrence Grimm

Interview: Lawrence Grimm stands 6 feet 4 inches tall – the same height as Abraham Lincoln. It wasn’t height that worried the actor when he took on his nuanced and profoundly human portrayal of Lincoln in James Still’s “The Heavens Are Hung in Black” at Shattered Globe Theatre. What concerned Grimm were the iconic dimensions of the 16th president, the towering figure whose wisdom would guide the nation through its greatest crisis.

In a spin at Lyric, ‘My Fair Lady’ still leaves romance in lurch, but the show’s irresistible

May 9, 2017 – 4:40 pm
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Review: For more than a century, people have been arguing about the ending of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” the play behind Lerner and Loewe’s beloved musical “My Fair Lady.” Now the Lyric Opera of Chicago jumps into this amusing fray, but don’t expect the matter to be cleared up. When it comes to the cockney guttersnipe Eliza Doolittle and the phonetics professor who successfully passes her off as an aristocrat, the romantic stakes are still dizzy with spin. ★★★★

Role Playing: Tyla Abercrumbie was set to run little ‘Hot Links’ café, but why was she there?

Jan 11, 2017 – 6:20 pm
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Interview: Actors know the OMG moment well. You win the audition and get the part. Then comes hard reality: You actually have to do it. But for Tyla Abercrumbie, who gives one of those performances you can’t take your eyes from in Eugene Lee’s “East Texas Hot Links” at Writers Theatre, the daunting truth was not simply that she had to measure up to what she’d won. She had to figure out why her character was even in the play.

Role Playing: AnJi White, as Catherine Parr, learned to keep her wits – to keep her head

Dec 8, 2016 – 12:00 pm
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Interview: When you’re playing the sixth wife of the notorious spouse-disposing English King Henry VIII, says AnJi White, the resolve to survive comes mixed with the question of how. Analyzing her own grand and yet vulnerable portrayal of Catherine Parr, in Kate Hennig’s “The Last Wife” at TimeLine Theatre, White says she pursues a nightly answer to the riddle of endurance with a royal husband who holds her life in his palm, and who will brook neither challenge nor collaboration.

‘Red Velvet’ at Raven: When black actor dares to play Othello, guardians of the theater revolt

Oct 31, 2016 – 4:38 pm
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Review: Lolita Chakrabarti’s eloquent play “Red Velvet,” currently offered in a keen-edged production at Raven Theatre, is a full-body immersion in the cold, foul waters of racial bigotry. Named for the seductive stuff that covers seats and railings in many a theater, the drama concerns the historical 19th-century African-American actor Ira Aldridge, a major figure on stages across Europe for three decades beginning in the 1830s. ★★★★