playwright

Post Script

Thoughts on theater from page to stage.

APT's "Macbeth" Illustrates the Price of Betrayal

The opening scene of Shakespeare’s Macbeth will, quite simply, take your breath away. 

Onstage at American Players Theatre through Oct. 4, the play begins with a rugged and fierce, but primitive band of soldiers emerging from the woods behind the outdoor stage. They briefly pause to discuss their battle plan, then run at top speed toward the audience and up the aisles, weapons drawn and battle cries filling the air. 

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Gwen Rice
American Players Theatre’s "Twelfth Night" sparkles

Normally Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night begins with a shipwreck, but American Players Theatre’s production, directed by John Langs, starts with a variety show. In front of an impromptu curtain, a set of fraternal twins sings, dances and merrily exchanges costumes onboard a ship, showing that only a skirt or breeches betray their true sex. But as the siblings kick up their heels and encourage the audience of sailors to join in their song, thunder crashes. The ship pitches wildly in a storm, and in a beautiful, poignant moment choreographed by Jessica Bess Lanius, the twins grasp hands, only to be separated by the waves.

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Gwen Rice
APT's “She Stoops to Conquer” Keeps the Laughter Rolling 

Irish playwright Oliver Goldsmith wrote She Stoops to Conquer during a topsy-turvy era, around the time England was getting its comeuppance from the rebellious American colonies. This 18th century comedy of mistaken identity, practical jokes and unlikely pairs receives a boisterous, playful production outdoors at American Players Theatre, directed with a delightful eye for the absurd by Laura Gordon.  

The first character we meet, the drunken youth Tony Lumpkin (a pitch-perfect Josh Krause), comes barreling down the stairs from the back of the house even before the pre-show announcements have finished advising everyone to keep the aisles clear for just such an occasion. On his way home from another raucous night at the Three Pigeons Pub, Lumpkin is dedicated to pursuing his own entertainment — drinking, subverting the will of his controlling mother (a fantastic Sarah Day), fronting a band that appears each time he sets out on an adventure, and playing practical jokes on unsuspecting gentlemen. Krause, now in his third season at APT, truly shines in this irreverent role — a bad boy rockstar in his imagination and a fairly harmless prankster who isn’t bothered by his lack of ambition or direction in real life.

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Gwen Rice
Desire and Disappointment in APT's "A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur"

The title of Tennessee Williams’s A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur refers to a wish for a delightful afternoon outing that doesn’t quite come true. On stage at American Players Theatre in the indoor Touchstone space through Sept. 26, it is the story of four single women in mid-1930s St. Louis who are desperate to change their circumstances. Led by Colleen Madden as Bodey, a resolute, chatty, practical woman of German descent; and Christina Panfilio as Dottie, a delicate-tempered high school teacher who exercises obsessively and overspends on extravagant clothes to make herself more attractive to men, the play is a gorgeous meditation on desire, disappointment and the value of authentic relationships.

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Gwen Rice
Games of Love and War

American Players Theatre opened its 40th season on Saturday with a beautiful indoor production of The Man of Destiny, a rarely seen comedy about strategy, power and manipulation by George Bernard Shaw. The witty, cerebral sparring match features uniformly strong performances from its four-person cast.

Destiny, which will be performed in the Touchstone through Sept. 21, is set at the end of the 18th century. It is a verbal and strategic fight to the finish — with a dash of sexual tension —  involving a young Napoleon Bonaparte (a measured Charles Pasternack, making his APT debut) and a “strange lady” (a mesmerizing Cassia Thompson, returning after apprenticing last season) who cross paths one evening in an Italian inn.

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Gwen Rice
Take a Trip to Byhalia, Mississippi -- At the Kennedy Center through July 7

In a post-show talk at the Kennedy Center last week, playwright Evan Linder described his play Byhalia, Mississippi, as a love letter to the region where he grew up, although he may not feel so welcome in little towns south of Memphis, now that he has shined a light on the complicated landscape of racial, economic and social tensions that permeate those communities.

“I wanted to see characters onstage that were people I knew,” he said. “Not some broad stereotype, but real people from the South,” he contended.

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Gwen Rice
Capital City's "On the Town" is a Helluva Ride

Strangely enough, the classic musical On the Town opens with a lullabye. That was one of many surprises in Capital City Theatre’s production, which opened officially last night and runs through Sunday, June 2 in the Capitol Theater at Overture Center. If starting a show with a sleepy longshoreman singing about a baby that kept him up for much of the previous night seems counterintuitive for a production that often bursts with energy, you’re right. But it also sets the stage for a night of stark contrasts in tone, tempo, and even genre. Cleverly conceived by director/choreographer Josh Walden and beautifully executed by members of the Madison Ballet and professional veterans of Broadway and regional stages, this production of On the Town compensates for the show’s paper-thin plot by performing each scene, song and dance number with exceptional artistry.

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Gwen Rice
Leads in Skylight's "Kiss Me Kate" Generate Lots of Heat

In the program notes for Skylight Music Theatre’s production of “Kiss Me Kate,” director Ray Jivoff does not apologize for Cole Porter’s biggest Broadway hit, which premiered in 1948. He writes, “Dated? Sure. Does it mine comedy from old gender stereotypes? Yup. Is the battle of the sexes based on old-fashioned sexual politics? Absolutely.” So, the Skylight’s last show of the season — and the last one under Jivoff’s tenure as artistic director — is one of those classic musicals that is grandfathered in to contemporary theater line-ups as a quaint snapshot of another, less enlightened time, redeemed by some great music. And in that context, the lively production, running through June 16th at the Broadway Theatre Center is a success. It’s also a reminder of why they don’t write musicals like this anymore.

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Gwen Rice
Where are Women's Voices Onstage in 2019-2020 Seasons?

Yes, it’s that exciting time of year when theater companies around the state unveil their plans for next year and as audience members, our imaginations run wild. Obviously, there are a lot of ways to evaluate proposed seasons, and dozens of questions to ask. Which future performances will move us? Surprise us? Entertain us? Which actors will inhabit the role of a lifetime? Which unknown gem of a title will steal our hearts? And when will the shows we hear about on the Tony Awards make their way to stages in our neighborhoods?

Other things worth looking at . . . How much original work does a theater commission? How culturally diverse is each theater’s line-up? How do their seasons tell a larger story? And who gets to tell that story?

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Gwen Rice
Growing Up with the Mafia in "A Bronx Tale"

A whole crew of “wise guys” from New York City has recently arrived in Madison via the national Equity tour of the award-winning musical A Bronx Tale, and they’ll be shooting craps, protecting the neighborhood and crooning doo wop songs at Overture Center through May 19. You’ll know them by their signature hats, sharp suits, slicked back dark hair, penchant for all things Italian and their thick accents. And over the course of the two-hour show, peppered with high-energy uptempo musical numbers, you’ll get to know all of them -- Rudy the Voice, Eddie Mush, Jo Jo the Whale, Frankie Coffeecake and Tony 10 to 2 -- along with the mob boss Sonny, who is the ultimate guardian of Belmont Avenue and the unlikely father figure for our hero Calogero, also known as “C.”

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Gwen Rice