Peninsula Players Theatre by the Lake is Stunning
A first time visitor to Peninsula Players Theater in Door County Wisconsin may be stunned at the scale and scenery of the theater surrounds. You approach it down a country road named for the theater after winding down an alphabet soup of “highways” named A, Q, EE and such. Arriving a half hour before curtain, there is already a sea of cars in the lot reminding a Chicagoan of venturing to Ravinia. Attendants flag you to stop and then ask if you are able-bodied enough to handle steps or not, pointing you to your designated parking spot.
The size of this theater emerging above the tall pines in the midst of nowhere is somewhat astounding—perhaps the same size as the “old” Chicago Shakespeare where its Artistic Director, Greg Vinkler, regaled Chicago in so many performances as Falstaff. Signs point to box office, beer garden and beyond. But the big beyond attraction, Lake Michigan, needs no sign. This is one of the most stunning views of the Lake one can see—and even more so when the bonfire in front of it at intermission casts another light to mix in with the palette of sunset hues.
Vinkler’s many memorable Chicago performances are a well-deserved draw to see NOW AND THEN. How fun to see that other Chicago theater lions round out the cast: Barbara Robertson whom many of us remember from A Little Night Music, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf and more; Erica Elam, now also the Artistic Director of Baby Wants Candy, and Sean Fortunato, whose long list of credits in the program notes somehow still doesn’t seem to explain how familiar his distinctive face is. These are actor greats all--- no second stringers in sight.
The scene opens and we are in a classic Irish-styled bar. A young bartender (Jamie, Sean Fortunato) is cleaning up when an older and friendly gentleman (Man, Greg Vinkler) walks in asking for a drink, and soon his ear. It turns out that Jamie and the Man have a bit in common—love of mastering game machines and jazz piano, scotch and soda, etc. True to his age and his piano teacher profession, Man seems intent to pass along his wisdom to young Jamie. Enter Jamie’s girlfriend at the end of her waitress shift (Abby , Erica Elam) and with alcohol flowing even more freely in a game of Truth and Dare the innocuous scene turns a tad creepy. Man is offering the young couple a lot of money putting Jamie on guard and clearly worrying about his girlfriend’s comfort and safety. It comes to a boil when he confronts Man with questions on how he knew so much about him and details he hadn’t shared.
Alas, recounting any more would be the spoiler any tourist to Door County doesn’t want to get. This flash of suspense melts quickly in playwright Sean Grennan’s script, not unlike a marshmallow in a nearby Door County campsite fire, and just as super sweetly. This new play has the feel of an oldie Hollywood movie, perhaps starring Jimmy Stewart, and especially with a similar tie it up with a bow happy ending. If you don’t like sentimental, this isn’t your show. For this writer, it somehow feels like a good fit with Door County, where one imagines every farmhouse has lace doilies somewhere in its décor.
That’s not to say that Now and Then doesn’t try to give us an appetizer if not a buffet of life’s meaning. Suffice it to say that the bar’s jukebox that eats your quarters is a metaphor of sorts for the story. You put your money in, not knowing what will come out of it—surprised by when and what it begins playing.
For those of us who are ever-nostalgic for Vinkler and Robertson’s performances in iconic roles on Chicago’s stages, their names on the bill for Now and Then might prompt a trip to Door County. For others, who like to vacation in Door County anyway, this production is certainly a good night’s entertainment. Robertson in particular is electric, and probably has one of the most fun entrances in her career—no spoiler details here!
Thru July 1
Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 7:30 p.m.
** closing matinee performance July 1 at 4 p.m.
Peninsula Players Theatre
4351 Peninsula Players Theatre
Fish Creek, WI 54212
For more information or tickets call the Peninsula Players Box Office at 920-868-3287 or visit the Peninsula Players website .
Playwright: Sean Grennan
Director: Tom Mula
Cast: Sean Fortunato, Greg Vinkler, Erica Elam, Barbara Robertson
Creative Team: scenic designer Sarah E. Ross; lighting designer Stephen R. White; costume designer Rachel Lambert; sound designer Mike Tutaj; and properties designer Paulilne Oleksy
Photos courtesy of Peninsula Players Theater