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The last time American Players Theatre (APT) held its opening weekend, Great Britain hadn’t yet voted to leave the European Union, Kevin Durant still played for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the up-the-hill stage in Spring Green was still made of aging white oak.
In other words, it kinda feels like forever.
That all changes this weekend when the Spring Green company officially kicks off it 38th season, the first on its shiny new redesigned outdoor stage.
That alone is enough to get excited about, but there’s also the work onstage to be considered. With eight plays opening between now and the beginning of October, whittling everything we’re looking forward to down to just five wasn’t easy.
1. Cristina Panfilio’s Puck
It’s interesting that director John Langs has opted to cast a woman as the mischievous Puck in his production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It’s a decision that opens up several intriguing possibilities, including a potential love triangle between Oberon, Titania and our, um, honest fairy servant. Panfilio has demonstrated her ability to play comic roles—you only have to flash back to last season when she took a turn as one of the Dromios in “The Comedy of Errors.” But we’ll see how much menace she injects into her Robin Goodfellow (Goodlady?). One thing’s certain: I wouldn’t want to mess with Colleen Madden as Titania.
2. Melisa’s Mad (Again)
One of the fun revelations in recent APT seasons has been watching Melisa Pereyra get angry onstage. She was hilarious as a flummoxed noble in 2015’s “The Game of Love and Chance” and showed plenty of furious fire as a confused and annoyed wife in last season’s “The Comedy of Errors.” Now she’ll be in Jean Genet’s “The Maids” playing Claire, the servant/sister who dresses up as her madame to indulge in some awfully disturbing role-playing games. It’s a role that should give her the chance to go right over the edge—and take us all with her.
3. It’s Miller Time
One of the big ticket sellers so far in APT’s 2017 lineup has been “A View From the Bridge,” another offering from American playwright Arthur Miller. APT artistic director Brenda DeVita has been working her way through the Miller canon in recent seasons: Last year’s production of the classic “Death of a Salesman” shed new light on a theater warhorse, and 2015’s “All My Sons” was equally devastating. It’s not exactly hard to see why Jim DeVita might have been drawn to the role of Eddie, an Italian-American longshoreman, given that DeVita, who’s also an Italian-American, spent the pre-actor/playwright portion of his career working on Long Island fishing boats. Thankfully, the rest of the play’s plot—his character struggles with feelings for his orphaned niece—is foreign to him.
4. Gather Your Dreams Together Into Words
There’s always been something inherently melancholy about APT core company member James Ridge. His eyes have no trouble evoking that anguished, hangdog look that’s served him so well in countless APT roles. But as the quick-witted star of APT’s production of “Cyrano de Bergerac”—adapted and directed by Jim deVita, no less—Ridge gets to hide his character’s melancholy longing for Laura Rook’s Roxane behind plenty of heroic bluster and adroit zingers. We can’t wait to see his portrayal.
5. Picking Pericles
“Pericles, Prince of Tyre” isn’t exactly the easiest Shakespearean play to stage. Not only do some scholars claim the Bard only wrote half of it, but the plot incorporates everything from a famine and a shipwreck to some seriously head-scratching plot contortions. Our peripatetic prince has been enjoying something of a revival of late—the Oregon Shakespeare Festival staged “Pericles” in 2015 and Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater did it last year. We’re intrigued to see how APT fits all the action onto that new stage.
Tickets for most of this summer’s APT shows remain on sale here.
Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning coverage of the Madison-area theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.