Preview: Classics, Contemporary Plays and a World Premiere at Wisconsin’s American Players Theatre

With summer temperatures beckoning us, Chicago theatergoers may start thinking about an escape to the lush, green countryside of Spring Green, Wisconsin, home of American Players Theatre. For nearly half a century, APT has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors to gaze upon its rotating repertory of performances each summer. The typical mix includes Shakespeare, classics, contemporary works and—this year—a world premiere.

A sizable portion of APT’s audience comes from the Chicago area and northern Illinois cities, and this season promises to be no different. The theater is located about a three-hour drive from the north side of Chicago. For Wisconsin residents, the theater is about a 35-minute drive west from Madison.

Theatergoers who travel to APT have their choice of both indoor and outdoor venues. The 1,075-seat, outdoor Hill Theatre is usually the first to open each summer. Its inaugural production, which opened last weekend, is Jean Anouilh’s comedy Ring Round the Moon, adapted by Christopher Fry.

The indoor, 200-seat Touchstone Theatre kicks off on Friday with The Virgin Queen Entertains Her Fool by Michael Hollinger. This world premiere concerns an aging queen who must choose her successor. The play has proved so popular that it was nearly sold out before the season began, so additional performances have been added in fall.

What if it rains? This question applies only to the outdoor theater, of course. But it's one that APT staffers face from time to time. Sometimes, the number of canceled shows due to rain is as few as a handful of performances in an entire season. Shows do continue in light rain (dress accordingly). Although it's rare, ticket holders may be notified earlier in the day if heavy storms are expected in the afternoon or evening. If a downpour occurs during a performance, the actors will exit and audiences will receive instructions over the speaker system. Sometimes, a performance will be stopped temporarily if the weather front is expected to blow over. However, if the rain-soaked wooden stage is deemed too slippery for the actors to continue, the performance will end.

Jamal James (center) stars as boxer Jack Johnson in 2023's The Royale at American Players Theatre. At right is Brian Mani, who tackles Shakespeare's Lear in this season's King Lear. Photo courtesy of APT.

Here is a schedule of APT productions, listed by month. The 2024 season runs through November 10, and tickets are on sale now for the entire lineup of plays. For more information, visit americanplayers.org, or call the APT box office at 608-588-2361.

JUNE OPENINGS

Occasionally, in very late summer or early autumn, outdoor performances may be canceled due to the heat. This was the case in 2023, when APT administrators determined that cancelling a show was the safest choice for both audiences and actors. In this event, ticket holders will be notified regarding their options. As a general precaution, audiences should bring water bottles and wear hats during heat waves. This is especially important for those attending matinees on hot, sunny days. A row of outdoor water spigots near the Hill Theatre's concession stand can be tapped before and after the show, and during intermission, to replenish empty water bottles (free cups may be handed out at the concession stand to fill at the water station).

Special July anniversary celebration. In addition to the plays listed below, a 45th anniversary celebration has been announced for July 21 from 1-4 p.m. The ticketed event ($25) will be a big party, featuring music, food and related festivities. Please note that theater tickets for that day are not included (they must be purchased separately). More anniversary event details will be announced closer to the date.

Ring Round the Moon by Jean Anouilh. A lush and witty comedy, as only APT know how to do. Get ready for a lavish, musical and clever romp. Now open in the Hill Theatre.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. One of APT’s most popular Shakespeare comedies is back on stage, with a seasoned cast to prove “true love never did run smooth.” Opens in the Hill Theatre Friday, June 14.

The 2023 cast of Merry Wives of Windsor at American Players Theatre. Photo courtesy of APT.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson. For those familiar with the Netflix rendition of one of Wilson’s best-known plays, the Roaring '20s return in a recording studio where a trailblazing Black blues artist and her band face off with white record producers. Opens in the Hill Theatre Saturday, June 29.

The Virgin Queen Entertains Her Fool by Michael Hollinger. Directed by noted director/actor Laura Gordon. Opens in the Touchstone Theatre Friday, June 14.

Wolf at the Door by Marisela Trenvino Orta. A second play in Orta’s ongoing cycle of Latinx fairy tales (which also includes The River Bride, which APT staged in 2022). Opens in the Touchstone Theatre Tuesday, June 25.


AUGUST OPENINGS

Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel. Set in rural Ireland, a family navigates the challenges within their own home, as well as societal changes around them. A poetic tale of sister bonding that also deals with hardships in a remote but lush environment. Opens in the Hill Theatre August 22.

King Lear by William Shakespeare. A classic tale about an aging king and the effects of wisdom and madness that torment him. The Shakespeare play, considered one of his best, has been staged several times at APT. This year's Lear is well-known, Milwaukee-based actor Brian Mani. Opens in the Hill Theatre August 9.

Constellations by Nick Payne. What happens when two people first meet? The choices are endless in this mind-bending contemporary drama. Opens in the Hill Theatre August 10.


OPENING IN FALL
Nat Turner in Jerusalem by Nathan Alan Davis. This play shines a light on a near-forgotten American figure who was instrumental in the fight to end slavery. Opens in the Hill Theatre October 17.

For tickets snd information on American Players Theatre 2024 season, see their website.

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Anne Siegel

Anne Siegel is a Milwaukee-based writer and theater critic; she's a former member of the American Theatre Critics Association, where she served for more than 30 years. Anne covers a wide range of Milwaukee theater for the city’s alternative newspaper. Her work also appears on several theater-related websites, including Third Coast Review.