Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012

APT, Spring Green, Troilus & Cressida

A Second Day and A Second Night in Spring Green

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Our second night in Spring Green, Wisconsin was a more traditional trip Up The Hill for Shakespeare. It came after a day of visiting various touristy places in the surrounding area.

outside seating area at Freddy Valenntine's

Again: Spring Green, Wisconsin

 If you enjoy APT but haven’t been in a while, it’s a nice opportunity to come back. A number of new places of popped-up in the last couple of years including a book store started by a theatre director from Chicago, an organic café called Driftless which provides picnic baskets with organic food for out of town visitors and a few other things. The APT has a stronger presence in Spring Green than I seem to recall it having in the past. Little stickers adorn shop windows of businesses which support the APT. In addition to the local rural Wisconsin flavor of the town, there’s an increasingly Madison feel to the place that is quite pleasant. It’s beginning to feel a bit more like Door County, yes, but I don’t know that the aesthetic shift is altogether negative.

Prior to the show, we had dinner at a place that had only opened-up earlier in the week. The pub-style food at Freddie Valentine’s was a welcome alternative to pub food found in The Shed, which we’d enjoyed immensely the previous evening. Valentine’s was fantastic—affordably upscale stuff served in a historic, old converted bank just around the corner from the Shed. The service was a little out of synch , but one might expect that from a place that had only been open for a little less than a week. The place was enjoying far more business than it was prepared for. Many of the more interesting items on the menu were unavailable due to flagging supplies in the kitchen. Clearly the pub’s owner is meeting the need for something slightly fancier within short distance of the theatre.

Again: Shakespeare Up the Hill

Having covered theatre to the tune of over 100 shows per year over the course of the past six years I have seen a great deal of Shakespeare . . .Troilus & Cressida is one of those that get produced that I’ve never seen it yet. Hamlet ? Midsummer Night’s Dream? The Tempest? Countless times. Troilus and Cressida? Not a once.

Having seen the APT’s production of the tragedy, I can see why it isn’t produced more often. The thing’s really remarkably uneven. It feels like the script has been pasted together from scraps of things that Will would have been working on that never really went anywhere on their own. There’s war. There’s aggression. There’s love. There’s lust. There’s passion. So it seems to have a lot going for it, but none of it really hits the stage with any real sense of overall composition. They consider it to be one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” and the problems litter themselves all over the place. It’s kind of messy.

Thanks to a remarkably well-conceived production Directed By William Brown, the unevenness of the tragedy doesn’t feel quite so uneven. The depth of true love between the title characters played by relative APT newcomers Nate Burger and Laura Rook are sharply contrasted against more superficial lustful passion aroused in a particularly sensual  performance by Ally Carey in the role of Helen of Troy. In a post-modern era where beauty is used to sell just about everything and photographic depictions of  every form of beauty imaginable are littering the public consciousness in vast hordes opf magazine covers, it can be kind of difficult to really show the kind of epic beauty attributed to Helen, but Ally Carey does a pretty good job of bringing a few hundred milihelens of beauty to the stage in a well-directed scene between her and a couple of men. The genuine beauty of love is delicately rendered by Burger and Rook in a series of moments punctuated by a particularly good performance by Jim DeVita.

The more aggressive and warlike end of the play is not without its strong points as well. The Greeks present in the play seem to be an annex for some of the best actors to perform at the APT in recent years including Jonathan Smoots as Ulysses, Paul Bentzen as Nestor, Brian Mani as Menelaus and Travis A. Knight as Cressida’s original lover Diomedes. I would’ve loved to see an entirely different play with the ensemble playing the Greeks. As it is, the talent in those roles felt exceedingly wasted . . . thrown-away on some idle bit of plot that didn’t fit comfortably into what could have been a more central part of the plot. As it is . . . the plot doesn’t really seem to have much of a center. Which is really too bad.  

The American Players Theatre’s production of Troilus and Cressida runs through October 5th at the Up The Hill Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin. For ticket reservations, call 608-588-2361. A concise and comprehensive review of the show runs in an upcoming issue of the Shepherd-Express.  

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