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A splash of Shakespeare. A handful of period comedies. And a racially charged play starring Jim DeVita.
There’s your postcard sketch of the slate of nine plays American Players Theatre will serve up next summer.
The Shakespeare includes “As You Like It,” one of the offerings from the woman-passing-herself-off-as-a man wing of the Bard’s catalogue. Speaking of crossdressing, Tracy Michelle Arnold will continue her run of playing male roles (she crossed genders in 2017’s “Pericles” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”). She’s been cast as the acerbic Jacques.
That’s the comedy. The drama comes in the second round of plays in August 2018. It’s “Measure for Measure,” a play about a Duke who hands the reins of power to an uber-moral (but really morally bankrupt) death penalty-loving adviser, much to the regret of his subjects. APT last staged it in 2006—back before Brian Mani’s hair turned gray.
APT Artistic Director Brenda DeVita gets her first chance to direct in the Hill Theatre with Garson Kanin’s “Born Yesterday,” a ’40s-era comedy about a swindler who is undone when he hires a journalist to teach his showgirl girlfriend how to be more worldly. The play pairs David Daniel as the swindler and Colleen Madden as the showgirl—an acting duo that worked some major magic in APT’s 2014 production of “Much Ado About Nothing.”
It’s not a surprise that there’s a play by George Bernard Shaw on the 2018 APT docket; it is surprising that it’s Aaron Posner, not David Frank, who’s directing it. Posner will tackle Shaw’s “Heartbreak House,” a less frequently performed Shavian work that includes plenty of his signature touches: social commentary, shifting love triangles and the threat of things exploding. Tracy Michelle Arnold, Jim DeVIta and Colleen Madden are in the cast, which means there will be fireworks.
Remember a few years ago, when APT paired an outdoor production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” with an indoor production of Tom Stoppard’s ‘Travesties,” a play that riffed on the Wilde classic? The company is aiming for a similar connection between their Hill Theatre production of George Farquhar’s “The Recruiting Officer,” a comedy about a pair of rogues who end up confounded by the women they’re trying to seduce—kinda like in every Farquhar play—and a Touchstone production of “Our Country’s Good.” In the latter, criminals and soldiers in a penal colony in Australia decide to stage a production of … “The Recruiting Officer.” Kelsey Brennan and Nate Burger are in both shows, and we’re betting there’s some major role reprisal on tap.
The season’s flash point/talker is likely to be Athol Fugard’s “The Blood Knot,” a challenging play about a pair of South African brothers whose relationship shifts dramatically (and dangerously) when the lighter-skinned one (to be played by Jim DeVita) begins to adopt the dress and mien of white society. It’s not unprecedented for a white actor to play the lighter-skinned brother—the first American production in 1954 featured a white actor, as did a 2010 production in South Africa featuring Marlon Brando’s grandson—but it certainly adds a keen new layer to the racial issues the play raises. It’ll be the third time APT has staged a Fugard play.
The Touchstone has proved a good home for APT’s absurdist tendencies in recent years (see 2016’s production of Beckett’s “Endgame”). That trend continues with Eugene Ionesco’s “Exit the King,” a play in which a monarch struggles to come to grips with the end of his reign. With sycophants aplenty—with shades of the Trump White House—we’re expecting more than a few cotemporary call-outs. Plus, it stars Jim Ridge, so count us in.
Finally, there’s the shoulder-season November offering, which plays around with one of the core company’s real-life marriages. Husband-and-wife actors Jim Ridge and Collen Madden co-headline “Engaging Shaw,” playwright John Morogiello’s look at the romantic battle between Shaw, a man who avoided marriage the way modern politicians avoid reporters, and his close friend Charlotte Payne-Townshend, a woman who’s more than his intellectual match.
APT’s 2018 season launches June 9, which isn’t as far away as you think. Ticket go on sale March 5, 2018.
Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning coverage of the Madison-area theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.
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