When Artistic Director Brenda DeVita chooses the season of plays that American Players Theatre will mount the following year, it is not a solitary exercise. And surprisingly, it’s not done with a specific theme in mind. Instead, it’s a collaborative process that takes months, involving many conversations with directors and actors. Through ongoing communication, DeVita discovers which plays, authors, and subjects the artists are most excited about tackling next. Then it’s a matter of fitting the projects and schedules together with the theater’s core company of actors, to finalize the nine productions the company will put up over the course of five months.
“It’s all about artists in the room,” DeVita explained. “What do they see? What do they want to say?” She continued, “With a repertory company, there are so many decisions that go into crafting the season. It’s a huge matrix. The job is to stack the plays we’re excited about on top of each other and commit to producing each of them at the absolute highest quality.”
She added, “The plan for 2018 is to take what we’ve learned working on our new outdoor stage, and hand it over to directors who, for the most part, didn’t direct on the Hill last season.”
For a group of plays that were written up to four centuries ago, the 2018 titles address current political and social issues in surprisingly direct ways. Political corruption, failing leaders, sexual predators, race relations, incarceration, and gender fluidity permeate the scripts that the company will mount next.
“I wish I could say I had that all planned,” said DeVita with a chuckle, “but I really didn’t start out with an agenda. The fact that these plays feel so relevant, that’s the amazing thing about classical theater. We have many of the same struggles now that have plagued people throughout history. Power corrupts. There are good things and bad things in equal measure.”
American Players Theatre’s 39th summer season, which will run June 9 to October 14, 2018, includes the following:
On the Hill
As You Like It
By William Shakespeare, Directed by James Bohnen
Two of Shakespeare’s favorite devices – cross-dressing and running away to the woods– meet in glorious fashion here. Dressed like a boy, Rosalind (Melisa Pereyra) teaches the young gentleman Orlando, how to woo. Also featuring: Tracy Michelle Arnold as Jaques and Marcus Truschinski as Touchstone.
According to APT Core Company member Tracy Michelle Arnold, DeVita didn’t even have to ask if she’d be interested in tackling the role of Jacques. “I was thrilled,” said Arnold, who hadn’t considered putting the role on her wish list until recently. “Jacques is such as an extraordinary character. He’s one of the only purely contemplative characters in Shakespeare. That’s his only purpose, to contemplate life,” Arnold explained. “And he’s described as ‘melancholy’ — I have always had a melancholy strain; it’s part of my personality. Dwelling on the actual, thinking of the long game. That’s how Jacques rolls.” She also looks forward to the character’s most noted moment in the play—the “seven ages of man” speech. “The actual text is so exquisite. You can’t help but revel in it,” she said.
Not only is Arnold happy for the opportunity to play the role, she’s particularly excited about doing it now. “I’ve been at American Players Theater for nineteen seasons. I’ve run through the gamut of Shakespeare leading ladies and character parts. And I was never really the ingénue. It’s nice to be my age and play this role. Especially at APT.”
By Garson Kanin, Directed by Brenda DeVita
Shady businessman Harry Brock (David Daniel) heads to Washington with his ex-showgirl girlfriend Billie Dawn (Colleen Madden) in an attempt to shift the law to his side. But first he hires a journalist friend to make Billie appear more intelligent.
For her debut on the Hill, DeVita said, "I wanted to direct something that challenged me. I love intensely personal, heartfelt plays, but I wanted to see what else I could do. I knew I wanted work with Colleen and David. So I asked myself, can I direct comedy?"
Even in the photo-shoots the company is doing for press materials for next season, the chemistry between Colleen and David is evident, DeVita said. “They were hilarious, ad-libbing for the photographer. So I thought, trust the play. Do the journey. And it will be funny.”
Audiences should definitely enjoy seeing the pair reunited for this comedy after they created such a connection playing bickering lovers in APT’s Much Ado About Nothing several seasons ago.
The Recruiting Officer
By George Farquhar, Directed by William Brown
Recruiting officers travel from port to port in this uproarious Restoration comedy, wooing men into service at sea, and women into their beds. Featuring Kelsey Brennan as Silvia, Nate Burger as Plume and Marcus Truschinski as Brazen.
by George Bernard Shaw, Adapted and Directed by Aaron Posner
Sweet Ellie Dunn has been invited to a party at the home of the eccentric Captain Shotover, where he lives with his bohemian daughter Hesione (Tracy Michelle Arnold) and her husband Hector (Jim DeVita). But Ellie has eyes for another man. A rich comedy about human folly and self-absorbed gentry.
Arnold is looking forward to this production for many reasons, including the opportunity to share the stage with some of her closest friends. “It’s Shaw, it’s Jimmy (DeVita) and Colleen (Madden)!” she squealed, in a recent interview.
Arnold is also very excited to work with director Aaron Posner, whose work she has admired in other APT productions. “He’s got his hands well into the classical theater form,” she said. “He’s really got truth and naturalism in his crosshairs. When I saw Glass Menagerie I thought, I want to work with this man.”
Arnold elaborated, “I love Shaw — he’s really a hero for women, and way ahead of his time. He wrote very strong female characters, and all of them have such wit. He was so smart, he couldn’t help himself. Shaw also loved to poke fun at societal structures, to poke holes in those things. It’s a delight to have his thoughts in my head and his words in my mouth.”
Although for an actor, mastering the phrasing of Shaw’s lines is also an incredible challenge, she said. “He is a writer of long thoughts and exceptionally long sentences, with several points throughout the sentence. If anyone can teach you how to hold a long sentence together — how to lift lines verbally so the full idea is expressed — it’s Shaw." She continued, “It’s always tempting to play for the little laughs in the middle of the line, but you can’t. It requires a lot of discipline. It’s also a credit to our audience and how wonderfully engaged they are that they will listen so carefully.”
DeVita also commented on the production saying, “Aaron Posner is brilliant. I’m so taken with his work and with his heart. He’s curious about the right things. I think he comes back here because he enjoys working with APT’s group of great actors,” she said. “It’s a mutual affinity we have for each other. We also share a deep admiration for Shaw. He also knows that this play is really challenging. He’s making it more streamlined and taut so the script feels really urgent and funny.”
Measure for Measure
By William Shakespeare, Directed by Risa Brainin
The city of Vienna is rife with vice, which is magnified when power-hungry Angelo (Marcus Truschinski) assumes control of the city. When aspiring nun Isabella (Melisa Pereyra) pleads for justice in her brother’s case, Angelo asks for her virtue in exchange.
In the Touchstone Theatre
By Athol Fugard, Directed by Ron OJ Parson
Two brothers live a quiet, strained existence in a tiny house in apartheid South Africa. Morris (Jim DeVita) has very fair skin, and passes as white. His dark skinned brother Zachariah (Gavin Lawrence) works long, painful hours as a sentry at the gate of a whites-only park.
Exit the King
By Eugène Ionesco, Directed by Kenneth Albers
A fading ruler at the helm of a world in decline, King Berenger (James Ridge) is having some trouble accepting his fate.
“Ken Albers is the only person I imagined directing the piece, and he’s on fire about it,” said DeVita. “He has a deep belief in the piece, and he excels at really audacious theatricality. It’s going to be great.” She paused, “We can’t help but look to the classics now to figure out where we are in the world.”
Our Country’s Good
By Timberlake Wertenbaker, Directed by Tyne Rafaeli
A group of soldiers and criminals have been sent to Australia as part of a recently created penal colony. The conditions are bad all around. To raise morale, Lieutenant Ralph Clark decides to stage a production of Farquhar’s comedy The Recruiting Officer, cast with inmates. Featuring: Kelsey Brennan and Nate Burger.
According to DeVita, pairing related plays, like The Recruiting Officer and Our Country’s Good, is one of the great glories of working in repertory. “I love it when we can complement one production with a correlating piece and let them reflect on each other,” she said. “Anything that can help the audience learn more, explore more, that’s a win for everyone.”
By John Morogiello, Directed by David Frank
George Bernard Shaw (James Ridge) was known for his writing and his affection for women, matched only by his resolve to remain a bachelor. In this charming romantic comedy, the clever and charismatic Charlotte Payne-Townshend (Colleen Madden) sets her sights on wedding the wit.
Tickets will go on sale to returning patrons in early March, 2018. For more information, please visit americanplayers.org.
An edited version of this article will appear in The Isthmus.