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APT Twin Spin Taps Our Highest and Lowest Desires

June 28, 2010

Two new productions opened at American Players Theatre this past weekend. Both stand out, and each for similar as well as different reasons.

Waiting for Godot

“We all are born mad and some remain so,” says Estragon (Jim DeVita) to Vladimir (James Ridge) in APT’s production of “Waiting for Godot,” Samuel Beckett’s existential masterpiece, which opened in APT’s Touchstone theater Friday, June 25. The pair’s enduring madness, of course, is waiting in vain for the unidentified Godot (pronounced GOD-oh to honor the author’s intentions, according to director Kenneth Albers.) Their fate is to endure life’s demeaning conditions without the realization that those conditions are theirs to change.

Albers plays the 1952 absurdist work as broad farce, giving DeVita and Ridge license to mix Beckett’s wordplay with very engaging physical comedy. Godot, it’s been noted, is similar in sound to godillots, French slang for “boots,” and much is made of Estragon’s discomfort with his boots, including possibly the single funniest scene of physical comedy in APT’s history.

The cast is completed by Brian Mani as the mysterious Pozzo and John Pribyl as the unlucky Lucky, tethered to Pozzo with a stout rope around his neck and controlled by commands such as, “Sit, pig!”

The four, along with alternating cast members Marco Lama and Anders-James Wermuth as the boy, are dressed in costumer Holly Payne’s tattered, post-apocalyptic wardrobe achingly appropriate for people who have spent too much time suffering too many abuses on the road.

In Beckett’s mind, that description might apply to all mankind, which may make the existential treatise uncomfortably familiar to many audience members. But tapping into the folly of our own reluctance to change was probably the author’s goal all along.

Another Part of the Forest

The trials and tribulations of the Hubbard family occupy “Another Part of the Forest,” APT’s fourth seasonal offering which opened on June 26, a suitably steamy, damp Saturday night. Love and honor are in short supply in Lillian Hellman’s Southern Gothic tale, which takes place in post-Civil War Alabama. At times it’s anyone’s guess who will remain standing at the end of the three-hour potboiler.

Marcus Hubbard (Jonathan Smoots) is a war profiteer with suspicious affiliations and genteel pretensions who can barely leave his comely daughter Regina (Tiffany Scott) alone. Wife Lavinia (Sarah Day) seems to live in a world somewhere outside of reality, while sons Benjamin (Marcus Truschinski) and Oscar (Eric Parks) spend time hatching their own alternately devious and dull-witted schemes to tap Papa’s fortune.  Much like life, few get what they want, but a truncated version of the family survives.

As always, strong performances carry this delightfully tawdry narrative. Sara Day leads the way capturing Lavinia’s borderline madness in her trademark style. As Marcus, Smoots mixes bravado with brittleness, while Scott’s Regina wraps herself in a flirtatious cocoon that will too soon fade. Susan Shunk tugs the heartstrings as Birdie Bagtry, daughter of a family fallen on hard times, and Tracy Michelle Arnold has far too much fun as Laurette Sincee, a prostitute who is the object of Oscar’s affections.

“Another Part of the Forest” isn’t the noblest of productions, but everyone’s ultimate undoing makes for an interestingly devious and slightly deviant ride.

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