Hard Times Make Hard People

We accompanied the Lady deGloves to American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green, WI to see August Wilson’s Fences.  It is about the African-American experience after WWII.  We went with hope and trepidation.  Our trepidation came from Fences winning the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  We figured that prize would be evidence of its leftist bona fides.  We don’t want to spend a night listening to a recitation of grievances.  Political points in entertainment need to be subtle.  We had hope because APT is a place of quality and integrity.

Much like the Pats over the Steelers (33-3 in case you didn’t see it) hope won in a rout.  We had to check to see if it was written by George Will.  It is an unflinching yet loving look at the black experience during the postwar years.  The play is set in Troy Maxson’s house and yard in Pittsburg during the late 1950s although you need some local knowledge to figure it out.  Roberto Clemente is playing for the Pirates and he debuted in 1955.  Troy’s son plays music at the Crawford Grill and they read the Pittsburg Courier.  Troy’s death is six or seven years later and the voice over montage includes Malcolm X (we think his assassination) which would take us to 1965.

Troy is a hard man that had seen really hard times.  He was one of ten (?) children of a sharecropper who left home at 14.  Troy came North to be homeless and a thief.  He killed a man.  He didn’t take our 44th president’s advice and brought a knife to a gun fight and, like in the Magnificent Seven, won.  He did time in prison and then was a power hitter in the Negro Leagues.  Although the color line has been broken in MLB by the time of the play Troy is rightly upset of his missed opportunity and that there are still some mediocre white players starting.  Troy didn’t share Buck O’Neil’s outlook.   Now he works picking up trash for the city.  During the course of the play he becomes the first black trash truck driver despite not having a license.

Troy became a hard man during these hard times.  He watches out for himself as he obtains a house for his family and his brother Gabe with the money Gabe got for brain injuries during WWII.  He has a loving wife Rose played wonderfully by Karen Aldridge who he betrays by having an affair that leads to a baby.  The mother dies in childbirth and Troy brings the innocent home that leads to a great scene.

Fences is an excellent play made extraordinary by APT.  It is about personal responsibility and family.  It has a wonderful and shocking conservative outlook on life, family, and religion. Troy and Rose have kept their family together during the Great Depression, WWII, and Jim Crow but Lyons has already broken up his relationship and we know from reading George Will and others that the black family will have bad times in the years to come despite the progress made by blacks as shown by breaking the color barrier in MLB, Troy becoming a driver, and legal improvements.  Troy’s children will have a harder time keeping a family in a much less hard time.

It is such a good play because its political outlook is subtle.  The play doesn’t beat us over the head.  Troy, Rose, and the rest are interesting and imperfect.  You should see Fences and enjoy them.

A Tale Of Two Plays

The economic arguments of this summer has been recycled so many times that it bores us silly.  The Donald wants to have trade wars.  It is still a terrible idea.  The Democrats, well, most of them, want to have the government take over health care and raise the minimum wage to $15.  In Venezuela, where they have tried these and more socialist ideas, has gone someplace in a hand basket.

Sidebar One: OK, a $15 minimum wage isn’t a socialist idea.  It often comes from socialists and it is a really, really bad idea for poor people but socialism is not the only bad economic idea.  End Sidebar One.

We are already on record as opposing these ideas so there isn’t much to say on that front.  The good news is that there have been interesting movies, plays, and books enjoy and comment on.  We are sure that the politicians will come up with some new ideas (and perhaps even a good one) soon but until then we want to discuss The Servant Of Two Masters at Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) and Twelfth Night at American Players Theatre (APT).

Sidebar Two: We went to the Twelfth Night wondering if we had seen it before.  We left the show wondering why it had that title.  Wikipedia tell us it is called the Twelfth Night or What You Will which is only a slight improvement.  The main title comes from the Twelfth Night’s entertainment for the close of the Christmas season.  So if you can connect music and disorder to that night then you might remember the play.  End Sidebar Two.

Servant is a fun play.  GRSF, as we have mentioned, does not have the stage or the company that APT has.  They handle their lack of resources admirably in Servant but it shows from time to time.  Trying to remember who is whom and when can get tricky.  In the madcap scene where stuff is getting thrown around there needs to be better choreography or perhaps more players.  One ingenious part of the play (we don’t know if it is a GRSF invention or not) is using an audience member to play the Doctor.  Not The Doctor.  Three or four members of the audience try out and one is picked.  An actor has a frying pan (yup) that says Yes on one side and Humbug on the other.  The Doctor says the word when prompted.  It is a fun play.  If you can’t make it this year then make plans for next July to see the next season.

Sidebar Three: It is tough to compare other places to APT.  We have been going there for almost 30 years.  We know these folks and the stage.  We go to various celebrations so we see the actors and other professionals up close and personal.  We like to attend opening night to see the other actors in the audience.  Actors make for a great audience.  Watching them is almost as interesting as the show.  End Sidebar Three.

Despite the last paragraph, we are convinced that Twelfth Night is an epic APT success.   David Daniel was born to play the prat Malvolio.  Ted Deasy, a relative newcomer to APT, is wonderfully unaware as Sir Andrew.  It is a sad joy to see his concern as he begins to realize just how unaware he is.  Coleen Madden shines as Maria. The best part is the choreography of Sir Toby (Triney Sandoval), Sir Andrew, and Fabian (Phoebe Gonzalez) with the plants (really, check the gallery) as Malvolio dithers.  The timing and organization of this madcap scene are great.  Yes, the leads are great but you expect that.  What makes APT so engaging is the quality of the whole cast, the details of costumes, and professional use of the stage.  And, of course, all up-the-hill plays are outside in a beautiful amphitheater with trees all around and, hopefully, stars in the heavens as well as on stage.  APT still has over a month to run.  If you can’t make it this year APT should be on your bucket list.




APT Stoops And Conquers

We accompanied the Lady de Gloves to American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green, WI to the opening night of She Stoops To Conquer.  We enjoy opening nights because, among other things, it brings the other actors to the show.  After decades of going to APT (this is their 40th year and perhaps our 30th) we know many of the actors.   As Father Brown says, actors lie for a living, but it is still fun to watch actors watch actors and plays within plays.  Perhaps they are acting when they watch but they really seem to enjoy the shows.

We had a nice evening meal on the picnic tables APT provides.  The APT grounds are enjoyable so bring a picnic or buy one there.  We are arrived at the outside theatre up the hill with some trepidation.  Last week, for the first time in our experience, we were rained out.  There were clouds but, fortunately, nothing more.  Then we read the director’s (Laura Gordon) notes and she said that Tony Lumpkin was arguably one of the funniest characters in the English language.  We almost left then thinking that no actor (Josh Krause- a relative newcomer to APT) or play could live up to such ballyhoo.

We are glad we stayed.  She Stoops To Conquer is an excellent play that APT does extraordinarily well.  The play is almost three hours but the time flies because the play does.  Josh is great as Tony.  James Ridge and Sarah Day are wonderful as the Hardcastles, a bickering pair on their second marriage.  There is singing, music, and wonderful physical comedy to go along with great use of the stage and and its surroundings.  Wait for Mrs. Hardcastle (Sarah) to get lost in the woods.  There are no small parts and Jennifer Vosters proved that by enchanting us as the fiddle-playing Pimple (yup, that is her character’s name).  We’re not sure if she had a line but we enjoyed her stage presence.  One of the joys of APT is the depth of the quality.

We don’t know if it was only for opening night but “Tony Lumpkin and the Bumpkins” performed several (four?) songs outside the theatre as the patrons departed.  We watched it with one of the actors from a Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur (review later).  She seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.  Whatever the distance, She Stoops To Conquer at APT is worth the trip.

American Players Theatre 2019 Season

It is American Players Theatre’s (APT) 40th anniversary this year.  You should visit APT and Spring Green, Wisconsin this summer.  It has terrific actors in great plays in a lovely setting.  Tickets are now on sale for returning patrons.

If you haven’t been there then you should know that there are two theaters.   The Hill is a beautiful outdoor theatre on, no surprise, the top of a hill.  Don’t worry the seats are very nice and the theatre has recently been redone.  Transportation is available for those who can’t or don’t want to walk up the hill.  We recommend the walk.  Touchstone is a smaller indoor theatre that is a great place to watch an intimate play and get out of the summer sun.  There are many picnic tables to have a meal before or after the show.  Check the APT schedule as they have some outside organizations bring in food on certain days.

There is other entertainment in the area as well.  You can go all cultural and add Frank Lloyd Wright’s Talliesin.  Or you can try more popular culture and hit the House on the Rock.  The affiliated House on the Rock resort has a nice golf course and is across the street from APT and a few miles from the actual House on the Rock.  You can laze around the Wisconsin River or make a short drive and see the Great River and its road.  You can learn how to pronounce Mazomanie.  While you are there you should eat at the Old Feed Mill.  There are lots of hotels and places to camp but don’t wait until the last minute to make reservations.  As we said, APT has terrific actors in great plays in a lovely setting.  Make the trip.


Engaging Shaw

We accompanied the Lady de Gloves to American Players Theatre (APT) to see the closing performance of Engaging Shaw.  The play, by John Morogiello, is about George Bernard Shaw’s relationship with Charlotte Payne-Townshend.  We approached it with some trepidation because we feared it would give us some of Shaw’s best lines without being much of a play.  We knew the cast of Colleen Madden as Charlotte, James Ridge as Bernard, Tracy Michelle Arnold as Beatrice Webb, and APT relative newcomer Gavin Lawrence as Sidney Webb would make it interesting.

The opening music told us it was going to be a fun time.  The play turned out to be an excellent rom-com with a conservative heart.

Sidebar: APT is becoming our favorite Wisconsin conservative institution.  True most of their conservatism is about the theatre.  They are, however, fearless with the conviction to freedom of expression and that means they are different from almost every other similar organization.  Experiencing Shaw is a great example.  End Sidebar.

Bernard, Beatrice, and Sidney are (in the play and real life) socialists who are members of the Fabian Society.  Their foolishness is often pointed out.  For example, Bernard and Charlotte are discussing income (in)equality and it goes roughly like this: Bernard says incomes should be equal.  Charlotte inquires as to how much income.  Bernard says just enough to get by.  Charlotte asks who will decide.  It take Bernard awhile but he admits that he plans on deciding.  It is wonderful romp both as a rom-com and skewering socialists.  The latter is something we can never do enough.

Born Yesterday – The Play

We accompanied the Lady de Gloves to see the opening night of Born Yesterday at American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green, Wisconsin.  We encourage you to go to APT any time you have a chance and especially to go “up the hill.”  Up the hill is to the Hill Theatre cut into the top of a hill in the woods.  Some evenings when the lights go out the stars are spectacular.  Other evenings, like ours, it gets amazingly black.  You do have to worry about rain but it is worth the chance.

APT has developed a talented Core Company over the years.  We got to see two of the stars shine despite the clouds: Colleen Madden as Billie Dawn and David Daniel as Harry Brock.  Colleen was wonderful as the ditzy show girl turned into an intellectual with a ditzy touch by a writer at The New Republic.  She gets to wear great styles to stunning effect.  The late forties must have been when The New Republic drifted away from the Progressive cause because the reading list he prepares pays homage to the Founders.  David is the most disgusting cut-throat capitalist you could imagine.  He is ill mannered in speech, manners, and behavior as well as poorly educated and dishonest.  Every moment he is onstage you loath him.  Compared to him The Donald is a model of decorum.

One interesting part of viewing Born Yesterday was the audience.  Spring Green is close to Madison and Madison has a well deserved reputation.  Our first take was that it was a typical bad businessman story was influenced by the audience.  Make no mistake, Harry is one of the most antagonistic antagonists but the play is much more than that.  We think is makes important statements about rights, education, and power.

The first point is that even folks as loathsome as Harry have their rights.  We forget if Billie or the writer is responding to the legality of Harry’s project by saying we’ll change the law.  Here the protagonists have forgotten their principles, specifically rule of law.  Rights are not rationed by niceness.

The second point is about education.  Billie’s education is a classically liberal one with documents from the Founders and classics from writers Charles Dickens.  Billie’s education compares well to most university curriculums today.  We think that important point was missed by the audience.

The third point is about power.  At the end Billie has Harry in her power.  Is she any better than Harry?  We don’t want to resolve that point but as a point of comparison go see Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Prospero is more magnanimous than Billie.  It doesn’t mean that Billie is bad it just shows her humanity.

It is an excellent play in a great place with wonderful performances.  Go see it.


A Venezuela Reminder

Kevin Williamson is on the Venezuela beat at NRO.  It has the electronic marker of socialism-always-fails.  Nice.  Do read the whole thing.  Kevin channels Jonah’s new book (the review is currently in the works) when he concludes about the aberration of capitalism’s great enrichment of humans:

That’s because being rich is temporary. Countries, like families, can go from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves — and it need not take three generations. As the Scots say: “The father buys, the son builds, the grandchild sells, and his son begs.” A nation that is not building is on its way to begging. Venezuela is already there.

In a 2006 poll conducted by the University of Chicago, Venezuelans led the world in national pride. One wonders what they would say now, if they weren’t too terrorized to speak. It is difficult to be proud when you are scared, hungry, and miserable.

Funny thing: The second-proudest nation in that poll was the United States.

We need to avoid Venezuela.  As many folks have pointed out the problem with socialism is socialism. It never works as NRO points out.  The problem with capitalism is capitalists.  Capitalism works but capitalists, like Harry Brock in Born Yesterday (another review from APT in the works) make folks reluctant to embrace capitalism.  Keep reading Kevin will help us make the critical decisions.

A Lesson And An Analogy

Yesterday we accompanied the Lady deGloves to an event at American Players Theatre (APT) and we taught a lesson in a beautiful fashion.  We taught a similar lesson, less elegantly, about 20 years ago.  To explain why we need to explain the analogy between APT and the university.

Brenda DeVita, the APT artistic director, was meeting with a group of supporters ostensibly to plan a season at APT.  The real lesson was: we really appreciate your support but you can’t have the plays you want because of all the constraints.

We faced a similar situation a couple of decades ago when accounting majors were in extraordinarily high demand.  Every firm wanted to be the first on campus so they could get the top candidates.  The Department worked with Career Services to create Accounting Career Expo (ACE) on Monday evening and Accounting Interview Days (AID) to follow immediately.  That way we could avoid no.

The analogy is that APT is very much like a university.  The comparisons are

Brenda is the department chair
The Core Company is the (tenure track) faculty
Other actors are academic staff
Directors are deans, albeit of one production
Supporters are supporters
Financial constraints are that seats must be filled

Brenda’s job is more complicated than a chair’s because almost all university performances are one-man shows while her shows are larger and often much larger.  The nature of the chair and her position, however, is the same.  Both of them have folks with awesome but not unlimited skills and often substantial egos that must be allocated to certain shows.  The Core Company or the faculty gets first consideration.  Other actors or academic staff fill needs and come and go.  Director and deans always have big ideas.  Both of them need to fill seats.  Both need to add new supporters without alienating continuing supporters.  Both need to accomplish much without much authority.  Agreements are reached by discussing, convincing, and cajoling.  We saw these attributes yesterday.

APT provided us with a nice dinner, plied us with alcohol, and brought in some of the performers to meet us (we met James Ridge who is wonderful as Cyrano) before moving into the Touchstone Theatre to design a season of APT.  They encouraged and got lots of input and put together a season.  Then they dropped “the math” on us.  The plays most folks like have lots of actors.  Not every actor can play every part.  Actors can only do a few plays a season.  There must be a Shakespeare comedy because “it is the gateway drug to the theatre”.  We’re not sure if everybody got it but the point was clear: You can’t always get what you want.

We learned the lesson and are more aware of the constraints than almost anyone but still want to see Arsenic And Old Lace at APT.  It only has 14 characters and the new stage will give them access to the Panama Canal.  Our casting is almost complete but we are have trouble with Dr. Einstein.