Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Dec 10, 2013
09:49 AM
Stage Write

Once, Twice, Three Times a 'Fantastick'

PHOTO COURTESY FOUR SEASONS THEATRE

"It's cool to approach this character now from a position of experience," says Jace Nichols.

Twenty years ago, Jace Nichols took the stage for Middleton Players Theater as Matt, one of the song-struck lovers in the classic musical The Fantasticks. Two years later, in 1995, he was back at it again at UW–Stevens Point, this time playing El Gallo, the guy who narrates the tale of a pair of fathers who go to great lengths to contrive to get their kids to fall in love.

If the third time is the proverbial charm, then folks who troop to see Four Seasons Theatre’s production (running from December 13–22 in the Overture Center Playhouse) will want to keep their eyes on Nichols. He’s taking a second swing at El Gallo—and he’s also directing the show.

“It’s been interesting,” says Nichols. “When I played Matt back in the ‘90s, I was the right age—I didn’t have to go far to find him. Looking back on my first stab at El Gallo, I realize now how much I came up short. It’s cool to approach this character now from a position of experience.“

Nichols, who’ll soon become a father, finds himself struck by the way he’s aged through the characters. He admits that while his familiarity with the show gives him an advantage on stage, it also presents a directing challenge—he knows these roles so well, he’s had to be careful to allow the actors the freedom to forge their own versions.

He laughs. “Then again, as a director, it’s hard to feed an actor anything.”

Nichols and Four Seasons are opting to use the original script of The Fantasticks—you know, the one that includes the somewhat problematic use of the word “rape.”  Back when the show debuted in 1960, the word’s commonly understood definition included “abduction against one’s will,” which fits in with the plot twist that finds the fathers recruiting El Gallo to stage a fake abduction of Luisa that’ll spur Matt to rescue her and fall in love; obviously, in 2013, the word carries a very different, much more highly charged connotation. The Four Seasons is distributing a warning to all patrons as they enter the theater to avoid any potential confusion and outrage.

For his part, Nichols thinks the show’s so iconic, the awkward original language won’t overshadow the entertainment. “The show only has eight characters, each one of which has been tailored to be easily identified with,” he says. “As you sit in the audience, at last one of them is going to feel familiar.”

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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