Taking a closer look at Madison theater
May 16, 2014
02:15 PM
Stage Write

Three Intriguing Things: APT's 2014 Season

Three Intriguing Things: APT's 2014 Season

PHOTO BY ZANE WILLIAMS

David Daniel, shown here as Hotspur in APT's 2008 production of 'Henry IV: The Making of a King,' lobbied for the part of Benedick in this summer's 'Much Ado About Nothing'—and changed the director's vision of the play.

The launch of American Players Theatre’s thirty-fifth season is just a few short weeks away at this point—twenty-three days if you’re being specific—but thanks to a teaser email the company sent out to its fans and subscribers last month, we already know who’ll be playing some of the key roles in Spring Green this summer. As usual, there’s a lot to like, but we’ve honed in on three casting decisions that are especially intriguing.  

1. The present—and future?—of APT’s Core Company is in Earnest

The cast of The Importance of Being Earnest features a four-pack of APT’s up-and-comers: Marcus Truschinski and Matt Schwader, the youngest members of the current core company, tackle Algernon and Jack, respectively. Their female foils are Cristina Panfilio and Kelsey Brennan, who both played key roles opposite these same male actors in last season’s docket, albeit in different plays—Panfilio as an Ophelia who managed to match Schwader’s intensity in Hamlet, Brennan as Truschinski’s spunky fiance in All My Sons.

“You could have cast this,” jokes artistic director Brenda DeVita when she’s asked about her casting decisions for Wilde’s classic, a work she terms “the perfect comedy.”

Point taken. But the fact that Panfilio and Brennan are front and center for another year could be taken as a strong indication they’re being groomed to become summer Spring Green regulars.

Unsurprisingly, DeVita’s playing it coy. “I don’t know who the next core company members are, but I’m sure thinking of it,” she says.

2. “I Had Rather Hear My Dog Bark at a Crow, than a Man Swear He Loves Me”

The banter between Beatrice and Benedick is one of the best parts of the Bard’s Much Ado About Nothing. It’s a slam-dunk to cast Colleen Madden, who’s wielded a sharp tongue on stage plenty of times before, as Beatrice; pairing her with David Daniel’s Benedick is an interesting, new combination.

It even surprised producing artistic director David Frank, who’s directing them both.

“I didn’t have David specifically in mind, when I first thought about casting this,” says Frank. But Daniel came to Frank and lobbied to read for the part. “In the course of reading, I learned something new about him. I changed my mind.”

Frank says that casting Daniel opened up new, less conventional interpretations of the play for him, in particular, a greater contrast between Beatrice and Benedick—she tougher and more enigmatic, he perhaps a little more desperate for her. Frank’s fascinated by what he calls the “brittleness” of the play, a work he describes as “a comedy embraced by a tragedy.” Much Ado is Shakespeare’s second wordiest play, topped only by The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Frank will actually spend the better part of his summer with Daniel—he’s also directing him in Alcestis, in which Daniel plays the hero Hercules.

“I can’t think of an actor I’d rather spend that much time with,” says Frank.  

 3. Exploring Jim Ridge’s Darker Side

To the casual observer (and to those who’ve interviewed him), Jim Ridge appears to be the very picture of politeness and propriety, even though he’s certainly played more than his share of cutthroats and villains on stage. How fun will it be to see him tear his teeth into the nihilistic, foul-mouthed Teach in David Mamet’s American Buffalo?

“I see Jim Ridge in primary colors,” says DeVita, who’s always been drawn by the trio of characters in Mamet’s play, desperate men who want to matter and know they’re not just small game for bigger predators. “He’s so bold physically, so bold emotionally. He has a real, great, dark soul about him.”

DeVita describes Ridge as the “wolf” of the play, while Brian Mani, who plays Donny, as the “bear.”

 “It’s going to be like fireworks,” she says.

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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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