Wineke Review: Two Shakespeare plays, one by Shakespeare

APT condenses Cleopatra but lets Verona shine in all its ambiguity
Wineke Review: Two Shakespeare plays, one by Shakespeare

It has to be something of a daunting task to take a Shakespeare play made contemporary by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and adapt it to a tiny stage in rural Wisconsin. But Kate Buckley and James DeVita do just that in the current American Players Theatre production of “Antony and Cleopatra.”

Buckley explained the challenge in her Director’s Notes: “Our assignment was to adapt Shakespeare’s ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ for the Touchstone Theatre using minimal design and no more than seven actors. My co-writer, James DeVita, fearless man that he is, plunged in without taking a breath. I paused, saying to myself, ‘one of the world’s greatest romantic relationships, sea battles, four suicides, fall of the Egyptian Empire and solidification of the Roman, on a small stage with a small cast…where to begin?'”

Well, it is a problem but the result is a wonderful — and in some ways disturbing — production.

DeVita not only wrote the adaptation, he stars in it. His Mark Antony pairs with Cleopatra, played by Tracy Michelle Arnold — another APT legend. The play strips away virtually everything nonessential to the Shakespeare tale and concentrates on the love/lust story of two of history’s most compelling figures.

They do a really good job — and that’s what makes the production a little disturbing to APT regulars.

The thing is, we know DeVita. He’s been on stage for 19 years. He’s a friend, a brother. We also know Arnold. She’s been on stage for 14 years. She, too, is a friend, a sister. We, actors and audience, are a family.

So why are DeVita, who in real life is married to APT artistic director-designate Brenda DeVita, and Arnold, who, in real life, is married to APT actor Marcus Truschinski, making out like mad on the stage, only a few feet from our very eyes? Because they are actors, of course. They are good actors. They are convincing actors.

But I heard more than one audience member say during intermission, “I just couldn’t watch.”

Speaking of Truschinski, which, I admit, we weren’t, Marcus is one of the gentlemen in the APT production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” He plays the role of Proteus. Travis Knight plays Valentine, the other gentleman.

This is classic Shakespeare with 24 roles (a few actors double up), women dressing as men, intrigue and subplots galore. There’s even a German shepherd, Tim, a resident of the Spring Green Pet Resort, who plays the role of Crab. Tim is better trained than most of our dogs and, as I suspect Shakespeare intended, steals the show.

It’s well worth seeing and worth taking your kids to see, especially if they like dogs.