Yes, there is Shakespeare. Over the years the Bard's presence has diminished somewhat at American Players Theatre, the 32-year-old summer theater company in Spring Green. But according to today's season-announcement press release, APT will, as always, anchor its outdoor 2011 season with his plays. One is the comedy The Taming of the Shrew, and the other is the momentous The Tempest.
Picking up where it left off in 2009 with Hay Fever, APT will stage another comedy by Noël Coward in 2011: Blithe Spirit, his most famous play, about a séance gone wrong. Also in the outdoor lineup is a staging of John Steinbeck's indelible Of Mice and Men, about the painful experience of two migrant workers in the Great Depression.
Rounding out the outdoor season is the theater spoof The Critic, a 1779 work by the English playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. APT hasn't staged an 18th-century play since 2008's The Belle's Stratagem, so this is a welcome program note indeed.
In its indoor Touchstone Theatre, APT again stages intense works. I can only hope one of them is as good as this past season's stunning Touchstone production The Syringa Tree, perhaps the best play I have ever seen. One Touchstone play is Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, about the ex-student Raskolnikov and his interesting theory about murder. Then there is Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, about a domineering mother and her damaged adult children. The Glass Menagerie was staged by Madison Theatre Guild just last month.
Finally, the Touchstone schedule includes The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes. It is the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney's adaptation of the ripping ancient Greek yarn about a disabled archer and his bow, which everybody wants.
APT's descriptions of the 2011 plays follow.
Up the Hill
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tim Ocel
Katherina, the oldest daughter of Lord Baptista, has a reputation for being…difficult. Her temper is so fiery, in fact, that no one (including her father and younger sister Bianca) believes anyone will ever have the courage to marry her. Since Baptista has sworn that Bianca can't marry until her older sister does, Bianca and her many suitors are stuck in romantic limbo. That is, until one of Bianca's more clever suitors hires a young traveler by the name of Petruchio to woo Katherina. An intense battle of wills ensues, leaving us to wonder until the very end if the story will end in romance, or an all out war between the sexes. Directed by Tim Ocel, who was at the helm of last season's As You Like It.
Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward
Directed by David Frank
After losing his first wife Elvira, Charles Condomine has settled into a routine life with his new (and more predictable) wife, Ruth. But when the Condomines host a séance at their house, something calls Elvira back. And much to the couples' chagrin, she has no intentions of going back to the other side. Another rollicking comedy by Noël Coward, directed by APT Producing Artistic Director, David Frank.
The Critic by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Directed by William Brown
How does a play go from rumor to reality? That's the question answered in The Critic. Sort of. In this hilarious satire of the art of theater, Mr. Puff has a play to produce. But how will it survive rewrites by the audience and actors to ensure that a "tragedy" is born? A restoration comedy written by School for Scandal playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Directed by William Brown, who also directed Another Part of the Forest, The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Night of the Iguana for APT in recent years.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Directed by Kate Buckley
Steinbeck's emotional masterpiece of depression-era struggle and the power of dreams comes to the APT stage. George and Lennie have been working odd jobs and drifting from town to town in an attempt to purchase a farm of their own. Lennie, enormously strong but with limited mental ability, loves nothing more than to touch soft things, and never tires of hearing George tell him about the rabbits they'll raise. Their dream comes into sharp focus when they land a job on a ranch, and meet a man who says he'll give them the money they need to buy land. But fate gets in the way, and George and Lennie find that escape can come in many forms. Kate Buckley directs, having directed Exits and Entrances last season in the Touchstone Theatre.
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Directed by James Bohnen
After being stranded on an island for many years, Prospero -- magician and usurped Duke of Milan -- hatches a plan to return his daughter Miranda to her rightful place in society. Aided by his reluctant servant, the spirit Ariel, Prospero creates a tempest to shipwreck his enemies on his island of residence. Among the ship's passengers are Prospero's brother Antonio, and the King of Naples (Alonso), who were behind the plot to steal Prospero's title and set him adrift in the ocean with his daughter. Also on the boat is Alonso's son Ferdinand, who Prospero hopes to betroth to Miranda. With help from his allies (and hindrances coming from several different areas, most notably the monster Caliban), Prospero struggles to magically induce a happy ending for all. Director James Bohnen is the former artistc director for Remy Bumppo Theater in Chicago, and has recently directed The Circle, King Henry V and Henry IV: The Making of a King for APT.
In the Touchstone Theatre
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Directed by Kenneth Albers
The people of St. Petersburg are poor -- starving and doing whatever they can to survive. Ex-student and amateur philosopher Raskolnikov is no different. Or at least he appears no different on the surface. When a gruesome axe murder occurs in his neighborhood, an essay that Raskolnikov once wrote theorizing that certain types of people have the inborn right to murder if it serves the greater good falls into the hands of detective Porifry. And as evidence begins to pile up against Raskolvikov, the question arises: is he himself the appropriate "type" to get away with murder? Kenneth Albers -- who starred in last year's Exits and Entrances and also directed Waiting for Godot -- will direct.
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Aaron Posner
Tennessee Williams' memory play about a family lost, The Glass Menagerie is a recollection by Tom Wingfield about his overbearing mother, Amanda, and painfully shy sister, Laura. The Wingfields were long ago deserted by their father, leaving Tom to care for the family, and forcing him to abandon his dreams of writing and travel. Laura is unable to work due to her general terror of people, and Amanda decides the cure for their problems is for Laura to marry into money. When Tom is bullied into bringing home a suitor for his sister, the Wingfields find just how fragile family bonds can become. Aaron Posner will make his APT directorial debut with this play.
The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes by Seamus Heaney
Directed by David Frank
Philoctetes was a Greek soldier famed for having inherited the bow and arrows of Hercules. But after he was bitten by a snake en route to war with the Trojans, his fellow warriors abandoned him on the deserted island of Lemnos. Ten years later, an oracle predicts that the ongoing war can only be won if the Greeks could regain the Herculean bow and arrow, still in Philoctetes' possession. Odysseus and Neoptolemus return to the island to persuade the rejected Philoctetes to help their cause by supplying his magic bow...but he is (understandably) not too happy to see them.