Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

American Players Theatre: "Blithe Spirit" and "The Critic"

On Sunday, September 4th, we drove to Spring Green for a rare combination of plays--two comedies, neither by Shakespeare.

The matinee performance was Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit," his delightlfully wicked comedy about a man (James DiVita) who is haunted by the ghost of his dead first wife (Deborah Staples), which bids to tear apart his current, second marriage. Very strong and very funny performances by DiVita, Staples, and Colleen Madden as the put-upon second wife. They were very well supported by the rest of the cast, in particular Susan Sweeney, whose practical outdoorswoman version of Madam Arcati was informed by the role as rendered by Margaret Rutherford in the 1945 film.

The cast added to Coward's crackling dialog with some excellent and original stage business. Staples, as the etherial Elvira, drifted about the stage with seemingly unconscious grace, until she is grounded hard when her plans go awry. If there was one flaw in DiVita's performance, it was that, in the first scene, he tends to overuse a fluting upper register voice when expressing humor or being nonplussed. However, that ceased to be an issue in later scenes. We, and all the audience thouroughly enjoyed the show.

The evening performance was "The Critic," by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Sheridan (1751-1816)was a notable theatrical figure of his day, playwrite, impresario, and theatre owner. This gave him a deep knowlege of the world of theatre, which he lovingly lampoons. The "Critic" of the title is Mr. Dangle (Darragh Kennan), a wealthy dilletante who is actually very UN-critical, and puts up with a lot he doesn't pretend to understand in order to feel in touch with the glamorous life of the theatre. Real critic Mr. Sneer (Jonathan Smoots) tries to guide him, but he persist in maintaining friendship with talentless creatures like "Sir Fretful Plagiary" even though indicating he is aware of their shortcomings.

The play's subtitle "A Tragedy Rehearsed" refers to the new production of a play called "The Spanish Armada" which is the brain-child of Mr. Puff (Jim DiVita). Puff is a man who has essentially invented the modern art of advertising, and, after "puffing" many plays for others, has decided that he knows the theatre well enough to write his own. (Puff's speech on the forms of advertising, including "the puff direct," "the puff indirect," etc., is a brillant take-off on Touchstone's speech on causes of argument and replies from Shakepeare's "As You Like It.")

In the second act, we see a supposed dress-rehersal of "The Spanish Armada," and find that it is a dreadful farrago of theatrical cliches strung on a bathetic excuse for a plot (and "underplot'); that Puff has no idea how to produce or direct--the fact that he let the actors themselves cut lines they felt unnecessary mercifully shortens the play for us viewers; and constant changes have left the production under-rehearsed and prone to disaster. The reactions of Dangle, Sneer, and Puff to these evolutions are almost funnier than the action on stage, which is very funny indeed.

Good as it is, we could see why it is rarely produced. It requires a huge cast (most of the company involved and some doubling roles--), a substantial investment in costumes, and a knowlege of the theatre to appreciate. Fortunately, the APT audience is the kind of audience this show was made for, and greeted the production with a resounding and well deserved ovation.

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Tags: american players, theatre
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