American Players Theatre Presents Alternate Shakespeare
As we sit in our seats in The Hill Theatre, we’re greeted by Mistress Nell Quickly welcoming us back to the Boar’s Head Inn. She mentions it’s been hard times with the “plague” and all, but she smiles and says it’s wonderful to be back.
As she takes her place behind the bar, another familiar character sits - John Falstaff, notorious knave and misdoer. Not far behind is the infamous and no-name messenger, seen in many if not all Shakespeare’s works, delivering plot-driving news. Everyday life has been affected by the plague. Theaters everywhere are shut down. No one is writing. Can they still perform on tour?
Soon, these three are joined by other popular characters from other Shakespeare plays.
AN IMPROBABLE FICTION Brings Familiar Characters in A New Light
We’re drawn into this alternative Shakespearean world by our familiarity with these characters, their costumes, their mannerisms, and their language. Mostly in Shakespearean English, it feels like we could be watching a Shakespeare play itself.
Falstaff, played by Brian Mani, in his soldiers’ uniform and ever-present tankard of ale, draws laughs when he rubs his belly mentioning his fondness for good times. And what would Falstaff be without at least one card game with some good-natured cheating?
Cleopatra, played by Tracy Michelle Arnold, enters adorned in royal garb and runs frantically after the messenger as she thinks he’ll deliver bad news about her beloved Antony.
Juliet, played by Melisa Pereyra, enters dramatically, bowing over the railing with angsty cries over her father not listening to her.
And Othello, played by Chiké Johnson, broods over his tankard wondering what his father-in-law has against him.
Our characters all start by leaning into their most recognizable character traits. We laugh at their dramatics and comedic bits. But suddenly a spark hits them. What if they could change what they’re all unhappy about? This play allows them a chance to dive deeper into these beloved characters.
Working All the Angles
The story of An Improbable Fiction is working two different angles. One, drawing parallels to today as these characters are brought together by the plague, and two, as though they are real people Shakespeare writes about while also acting themselves in his plays. We hear about their struggles during this time of the plague, like being out of work and the loneliness of not seeing any friends for more than 10 days. We also start to see the common theme behind these characters and why playwright James DeVita has brought them all together in this moment.
The play makes you imagine what if these characters were real? What would they want? What would they have to say about their troubles? And even more important, would they want to change it? It gives them more depth than perhaps our original playwright intended. No spoilers here, but it especially gives Falstaff his moment in the spotlight as Mani delivers a passionate and emotional speech in the climactic last moments of the play.
This show might not be a good fit for anyone who loves the original works as they are. But for those that love finding connections in Shakespeare’s plays and works that draw parallels to today, An Improbable Fiction would be a good fit for you.
Sir John Falstaff - Brian Mani
Mistress Nell Quickly - Sarah Day
Othello - Chiké Johnson
Cleopatra - Tracy Michelle Arnold
Juliet - Melisa Pereyra
The Messenger - Ronald Román-Meléndez
Written by James DeVita
Directed by Tim Ocel
Voice & Text Coach Adrianne Moore
Costume Design by Scott A. Rött
Scenic Design by Nathan Stuber
Lighting Design by Michael A. Peterson
Sound Design & Original Music by Gregg Coffin
Fight Director Jeb Burris
Stage Manage Evelyn Matten
Now through June 26, 2021
Tuesdays-Sundays at various times
American Players Theatre
5950 Golf Course Road
Spring Green, WI 53588
Photos by Liz Lauren
About the Author: Alexis Bugajski
Alexis is a theater reviewer, travel bug, media specialist, and burger & beer enthusiast. During the day she works in the advertising business as a senior communications designer. When night falls, or when she can escape to New York, she’s hitting the theaters to see as many shows as she can. And whenever she’s not at her desk or in the audience, she’s out seeking the best burger and beer offerings in Chicago.
Editor's Note: Click here to read more Picture this Post articles by Alexis Bugajski