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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Shakespeare in the Woods

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Over the years, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has proven to be one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays—and now it’s about to be shown at two outdoor theaters in Wisconsin. Next week, the Bard’s classic makes it to the outdoor stage of the American Players Theatre(APT) in Spring Green. A month later, Door Shakespeare will launch its own staging.

  APT’s production is being helmed by Chicago-based director William Brown. “This play seems almost written for our beautiful space up the hill,” Brown says. The play will feature production design by the same team that brought Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana to Spring Green last season. Tony-nominated set designer Todd Rosenthal is joined by sound designer/composer Michael Peterson and costume designer Rachel Healy. The challenge in designing an outdoor production of this mystic romantic-comedy lies in giving it a distinct presence onstage without overpowering the natural elements of the outdoor setting.

  “They have done a gorgeous job of creating Athens and the strange and wonderful forest outside of Athens,” Brown says. “And every bird and animal and bat and insect will be put to good use.”

  Beyond the design elements, it can be difficult to distinguish an individual production of a play that has seen the stage countless times. “I find that with the really familiar plays, you have to do a little housecleaning before you begin the process of designing and directing them,” Brown says.

  It’s a complex process of deciding which impressions of the play come from previous productions and which impressions come from the script itself, he notes. “Then you can begin to have a genuine and fresh relationship to the play,” he adds. “And that's when the fun starts.”

T  iffany Scott and Matt Schwader play the unfortunate, mortal lovers Hermia and Lysander. Scott and Schwader make an attractive couple for an epic romance, which should nicely anchor the human end of the production. Equity actor Michael Huftile, who recently appeared in the Madison Rep’s production of Lombardi, plays dual roles as Kings Theseus and Oberon. Carey Cannon plays Queens Titania and Hippolyta.

  Of particular note to Milwaukee audiences is a pair of actors who played prominent roles in Next Act productions this past season. Marcus Truschinski, who memorably appeared as an angel in the body of a developmentally disabled man in Next Act’s Greetings!, plays Oberon’s servant Puck. Jonathan Smoots, who put in a phenomenal performance as the title character in Next Act’s production of Faith Healer,plays comic relief as Nick Bottom, whose head gets transformed into that of an ass by the mischievous Puck.

  The American Players Theatre opens its season with a preview of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on June 7. The play runs in repertory with the rest of APT’s offerings this year, and closes the season with a final performance on Oct. 5.