American Players Theatre builds loyal following by tradition

Posted September 1, 2018

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By Jay Handelman, Herald-Tribune | September 1, 2018

SPRING GREEN, Wisconsin — At the top of a long gravel pathway winding through the woods, past the bug spray stations and people carrying remnants of their picnic dinners, you enter a kind of paradise at the American Players Theatre.

Even during a heat wave on a muggy night when the mosquitoes easily outnumber the humans, this repertory theater company creates magic under the stars.

Unknown to many outside the upper midwest, the 40-year-old company produces classic plays with style and limited frills. Sure there are some sets (as needed) and lovely costumes, but the focus here is on the words, the stories and the acting.

The theater presents nine shows each season, from mid-June through mid-November, at its outdoor Hill Theatre and the more intimate indoor Touchstone Theatre. During a recent visit for the American Theatre Critics Association’s annual conference, I saw all five shows running at the time.

Even as you sit waving away the heat and flying insects (and feel badly for the actors who must be sweating in their costumes), you watch transfixed by performances that are clear and impactful.

I’ve rarely seen a production of “As You Like It” so easily understood. Even without electronic amplification, every word and syllable could be heard in a performance space built in a natural amphitheater. The production staged by APT veteran James Bonnen (who owns and runs the Arcadia bookstore in Spring Green), doesn’t need physical shtick or outrageous gestures to convey the humor. Audiences are laughing solely because of the words and the situations.

The same was true of George Farquhar’s “The Recruiting Officer,” the most popular play of the 18th century but one that is rarely staged today. The comedy with poignant moments, staged by William Brown, earned easy and natural laughs with a story that also touches on the dangers of war.

At APT, the emphasis is on the words, according to Artistic Director Brenda DeVita, a former actress who joined APT in 1995 as company manager and became associate artistic director in 2004, before taking over five years ago.

Devita recalled her first time seeing a show at APT, in which her husband, Jim DeVita played Romeo. “He came home from the first rehearsal and said ‘This place is wild, everyone is working on the play.’ Fast forward and I sit down on opening night. I had done many shows, but I never sat in an audience like that audience, full of people ready to listen to stories, just pure interest in listening and watching.”

Read the full article here.