Wisconsin's American Players Theatre Presents Shakespeare in the Forest, Chekhov Under the Stars

By Louise Burton on Jun 11, 2014 01:22 AM EDT

Since 1980, the American Players Theatre has been performing the works of Shakespeare and other classic plays in the woods just outside Spring Green, Wis., trusting to the unique alchemy of the natural setting and a troupe of marvelously talented actors to work their theatrical magic in this amphitheater under the stars.

All of the productions I have seen at the APT have been excellent, and the theater has even received national recognition for the quality of its performances in recent years. But still, it seems to be little-known outside of Wisconsin.

Which is too bad--this "Theater in the Woods" is within driving distance of Chicago as well as Madison, Wis., and its wooded amphitheater setting offers greater natural beauty than Ravinia's well-manicured suburban lawns, spacious though they may be.

APT is currently offering a week of preview performances, leading up to the official opening night on Saturday, June 14, featuring David Mamet's American Buffalo in the Touchstone Theater in the afternoon and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest in the Up-the-Hill Theater at night.

APT will also present two Shakespeare plays this summer: Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet, which open later this month. Also playing Up-the-Hill are Chekhov's The Seagull and Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma, which open in August.

I haven't yet had the pleasure of seeing a production in the indoor Touchstone Theater. This year's performances in the intimate 200-seat theater include Mamet's Buffalo, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, Tom Stoppard's Travesties and Euripides' Alcestis, in a translation by poet Ted Hughes.

It's noteworthy that APT is performing another ancient Greek drama in the Touchstone this season. In 2011, APT staged The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes by poet Seamus Heaney. This production, directed by APT Artistic Director David Frank, made quite an impression on Terry Teachout, the Wall Street Journal's drama critic.

In an end-of-year column, Teachout called the production "the best show of any kind that I saw in 2011."

Teachout also chose APT as 2011 Company of the Year, saying "When it opened a second indoor stage, the handsome 200-seat Touchstone Theatre in 2009, APT decisively established itself as one of America's most ambitious and consistently impressive classical summer festivals."

Which is high praise for a small, regional summer theater. But the level of performances I have seen at APT have been uniformly high, creating a perfect balance of sorts: high-quality theater in an equally lovely outdoor setting.

Although the walk up the wooded hill to the outdoor amphitheater may be off-putting to some, the quality of the performances at the end of it are well worth the effort. Just be sure to bring bug spray.


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TagsAmerican Players Theatre, Spring Green, Wisconsin, Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, David Frank, The Cure at Troy, Terry Teachout

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