Heartbreak House and Measure for Measure Review – Idyllic Surroundings Frame a Thought-Provoking Night at the Theatre

Posted August 28, 2018

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By Jessie Bylander for Splash Magazine | August 28, 2018

he muggy afternoons and mosquito-heavy evenings in Wisconsin may not sound like the ideal time or place to spend 2-plus hours pondering the human condition, the governments and other social systems we have built and the institutionalized danger they bring us… but American Players Theatre’s latest excellent additions to their summer rotating rep, George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, provide a compelling reason to douse oneself in bug spray, climb the hill, and mull over truth and lies, punishment and mercy, morality, mortality, and sin.

In the production of Heartbreak House, the richness of Shaw’s mind and prose are beautifully represented in all things: in Aaron Posner’s humane and cheeky direction–at the start of Act III, as all the characters take their places on the stage, they face the audience and let out a loud, long, satisfying scream to break the tension of the previous 2 hours of warring philosophies and jumbled relationships; in Andrew Boyce’s richly detailed set, stuffed with books and artifacts and other fine needlework, all capped with an enormous HEARTBREAK HOUSE sign looming above that serves as an elbow to the side every time a character mentions “heartbreak,” playfully ribbing the playwright’s metaphor; and in Rachel Laritz’s luxurious, meticulous costume design, speaking to each character’s purpose and heart.

No character has more purpose or more heart than Hesione Hushabye, and Tracy Michelle Arnold clearly loves every fiber of her.  Gliding and enveloping both humans and furniture with her sweeping sleeves and caressing tones, Arnold makes Hesione every part genuine and kind;  there is hardly an ounce of envy or sarcasm in any of Arnold’s notes because her Hesione contains none. One does not have to suspend disbelief when all three male characters believe she is addressing them when she warmly demands “Come and talk poetry to me under the stars.” Her performance is a charming bewitchment to behold.

Dressed in more form-fitting, proper garb, though equally jewel toned in purplish blues, is Colleen Madden’s Lady Utterword, speaking sternly and loudly to anyone and everyone about meeting her goals of escaping the ill-run Heartbreak House for an orderly life as a titled man’s wife, but betraying her secret heart by yearning for her father’s recognition and affection. Madden’s face flickers with her silent, childlike anguish then smooths, painted with haughty indifference, almost like a magic trick. She is no less captivating when she is switching in and out of coquettish flirtation with her sister’s husband. Together, she and Arnold are so in synch that when Hesione’s young and bright but impoverished friend Ellie announces their father brought her some tea, their facial expressions are identical.

Read the rest of the review here.