In the wake of American Players Theatre's 2009 season, which saw the triumphant debut of the indoor Touchstone Theatre, the Spring Green company has released its eight-play lineup for next year. On a less triumphant note, attendance was down from 2008 amid a wilting economy, but ticket income actually was slightly up.
Touchstone has expanded APT's facilities, and also the repertoire possibilities. Inside, APT can produce intimate works not especially suitable for the big stage up the hill. I will forever be haunted by Sarah Day's performance this past summer as the forlorn mother in Eugene O'Neill's devastating Long Day's Journey Into Night, which was staged in the Touchstone. I get a little emotional just thinking about it.
As always, APT's new schedule is grounded in Shakespeare. There are two plays by the Bard for the outdoor stage, the comedy As You Like It and the "problem play" All's Well That Ends Well. Also outside is a work by George Bernard Shaw (whose plays are becoming as familiar to Spring Green playgoers as Shakespeare's): 1905's Major Barbara, about an idealistic officer in the Salvation Army. The other outdoor plays are W. Somerset Maugham's comedy The Circle and William Inge's Pulitzer-winning Picnic, about an itinerant who shakes things up when he arrives in Kansas town. (I also get a little emotional thinking about William Holden in the movie version of Picnic.)
Look once again for intense fare in the Touchstone Theatre. There is Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, the iconic, absurdist work about everything that's wrong with everything. South Africa looms large in the other two Touchstone plays. In Pamela Gien's The Syringa Tree, about a childhood under apartheid, APT stalwart Colleen Madden will play 24 characters in what looks to be a mustn't-miss. And Athol Fugard's autobiographical Exits and Entrances tells of the playwright's friendship with an Afrikaners actor.
APT's descriptions of the 2010 plays follow.
Up the Hill
As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tim Ocel
Scheming and treachery lead to love, atonement and more than a little cross-dressing in Shakespeare's pastoral comedy. When scheming Duke Frederick banishes the rightful Duke Senior (his brother), he allows Senior's daughter Rosalind to remain in the court to attend to his own daughter, Celia. At least for a while. In the meantime, young Orlando's brother Oliver plots to have him killed during a wrestling match. But Orlando defeats the mighty wrestler, derailing Oliver's plans and winning Rosalind's heart in the process. Eventually, all of them end up in the Forest of Arden, where true feelings and true identities are hidden from view until the time when all is inevitably revealed.
Picnic by William Inge
Directed by William Brown
A small Kansas town is shaken up when an attractive young drifter finds work next door to a single mother and her two daughters. Flo's plans for her girls are thrown into turmoil when they both fall for their neighbor's hired hand, even though the younger girl is bound for college and the older is engaged to another man. Tensions come to a head during a neighborhood party, and a community is forced to rethink their priorities finding that in the end, it's not necessarily love that conquers all.
All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare
Directed by John Langs
After the death of her husband, Countess of Rossillion sends her son Bertram off to make his way at court, where the King struggles with an incurable disease. Remaining in her custody is the poor, orphaned Helena whose father was a famous physician. Helena is secretly in love with Count Bertram, despite the great difference in their stations. To win his love, she uses the medical knowledge she learned from her father to cure the King, who then upholds her wish to marry Bertram. Bertram, however, has other ideas and flees to fight the war in Italy. To win his love, Helena also travels to Italy, hatching another plan. But all won't be well until the travelers return home to the Countess's estate and another funeral.
The Circle by W. Somerset Maugham
Directed by James Bohnen
The Circle is the story of two triangles, each of a husband, wife, and lover. Thirty years before the start of the play, Lady Kitty ran off to Italy with Lord Porteous, leaving her husband and five-year-old son Arnold to their own devices. The play opens with the return of this now aged couple to England and a family reunion negotiated by Arnold's curious wife. To complicate matters, the earlier abandoned husband Clive intrudes upon the visiting couple. The second triangle, one of young people, consists of the now-grown Arnold, his lively but bored wife, Elizabeth and their affable house guest Teddie. Bringing matters full circle, Elizabeth and Teddie have fallen for each other. Will they bolt like the lovers of thirty years ago? Maugham's hall of mirrors action wittily calls to mind the famous question: Do people learn anything from the past, or is the only lesson the past has to offer that people have never learned anything from it?
Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by David Frank
Major Barbara Undershaft becomes disillusioned when the Salvation Army accepts money from an armaments manufacturer (her father, who is essentially trying to buy her affection) and a whiskey distiller. So much so, in fact, that she leaves her post there. Eventually, Barbara must decide for herself what path leads to her own personal fulfillment, and the greatest benefits to the people she wants to help. With Shaw, charity and money are always complicated, and you never know where the chips will fall until the last scene is played to its satisfying conclusion.
In the Touchstone Theater
The Syringa Tree by Pamela Gien
Directed by C. Michael Wright
Set in Johannesburg, South Africa during the height of apartheid, The Syringa Tree reveals the horrors of racism through the filter of a six-year-old girl. Though Elizabeth understands that she's privileged in many ways, she struggles to sort through her confusion as to why her Xhosa nanny Salamina and her family is treated differently than Elizabeth's own white family. Her understanding, her bravery and her fear continue to develop through the story until its inspiring and heartbreaking conclusion, with all 24 characters played by the remarkable Colleen Madden.
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Kenneth Albers
Vladamir and Estragon wait by a tree for a man named Godot (take from the name what you will). Over the course of the day, people stumble in and out of their resting spot as their intended guest grows ever tardier. And time becomes ever harder to define. Speculation about the meaning behind this play run rampant, leading playwright Samuel Beckett to once ponder "Why people have to complicate a thing so simple I can't make out."
Exits and Entrances by Athol Fugard
Directed by Kate Buckley
Exits and Entrances begins with the rebirth of South Africa, and the death of the Afrikaners actor André Huguenet. Over the course of the two-character show, the Playwright reflects on the time he spent with Huguenet. Through his recollections, the two compare their lives and upbringing against the backdrop of South Africa, and contemplate the plans the gods have for them. Based on Fugard's real-life mentor relationship with the larger-than-life Huguenet.