Local actors love American Players Theatre
Colleen Madden plays alongside Jonathan Smoots in "The Royal Family" at American Players Theatre. | Photo by Carissa Dixon
American Players Theatre
at 5950 Golf Course Rd., Spring Green, WI
“Heroes” (through Sept. 27, Touchstone), “Richard III” (through Sept 28, Up the Hill), “The Royal Family” (through Sept. 29, Up the Hill), “In Acting Shakespeare” (through Oct. 4, Touchstone),”Troilus and Cressida” (through Oct. 5, Up the Hill), “The Admirable Crichton” (through Oct. 6, Up the Hill),”Twelfth Night” (through Oct. 7, Up the Hill), “Skylight” (through Oct. 20, Touchstone) and “Shakespeare’s Will,” (through Oct. 21, Touchstone).
$42-$66; packages available
(608) 588-2361, www.americanplayers.org
Updated: September 13, 2012 9:24AM
There’s something magical about watching a play at the top of a hill in a small, scenic Wisconsin town. Turns out, the actors feel that magic, too.
Evanston resident John Lister is back for his second season at American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green. Although he has skipped a few years, Elmwood Park native Jonathan Smoots is celebrating his 23rd season performing with the repertory company. They both have high praise for the setting, staging and acting quality at the 33-year-old professional theater.
Lister had been asked to perform with APT for several years but hesitated because his children were very young. Last year, he did half the season and this year agreed to the entire five-plus month commitment, with the support of his wife, Laura D. Glenn, a stage manager at Steppenwolf Theatre.
“It’s really one of the few places—especially as close to home as it is—where they’ve got this level of classical theater,” said Lister. “I fell into doing a lot of Shakespeare the last 10 or 15 years.” That includes more than a dozen productions with Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
“Nobody does it better than APT,” Lister declared. “The people are great, the acting is phenomenal—and it’s only three hours away from Chicago.”
Like most of the APT actors, Lister is performing three roles.
He is Lord Stanley in “Richard III” and has a small role in “Troilus and Cressida” but his biggest part is in “Heroes,” a three-person play, adapted by Tom Stoppard from Gerald Sibleyras’s “Le Vent des peupliers,” being performed in the theater’s intimate indoor space.
“It’s a wonderful piece about three World War I vets,” Lister reported. “It’s a gift getting to actually do a play in the Touchstone, which is their gorgeous indoor space, while it’s 98 degrees outside with 85 percent humidity. But the piece itself really, really feels good.”
Despite the weather conditions outdoors, Lister has a great affection for the company’s main space. He noted that when theater friends who had worked at APT talked about “the magic of the place,” he kind of brushed it off. “But when you get up there, on top of that hill, in that sort of natural amphitheater, there is something incredible about it. People really care about the work and making the whole thing feel like a family.”
Smoots has been performing since his high school days in Elmwood Park. After earning a graduate degree from Northwestern University in 1979, he appeared in one show at Northlight Theatre. “Then I auditioned for American Players and was cast in 1980,” he recalled. He performed with them for six seasons before moving to New York.
“I had a couple of really intriguing offers,” he reported. “But ended up turning those down for the opportunity to go back to APT.” That was in 1994 and he’s been back every season since except for a couple of years when he took on special projects.
“I’m the only one in the company that was here the first year the theater was built,” Smoots noted.
He has planted roots in Wisconsin. Half the year, he and his wife, actor and director Laura Gordon, live in Milwaukee, where he performs extensively with Milwaukee Rep and other area companies. The rest of the year, they live in a duplex that they built in Spring Green.
Smoots is also in “Heroes,” which is directed by James Bohnen, artistic director emeritus of Chicago’s Remy Bumppo Theatre Company. “It’s a very, very funny play,” Smoots said. “But it’s also sad and poignant and moving. I get to play the guy that’s kind of cranky. It’s always fun to be the cranky guy.”
Smoots is also in “The Royal Family” and “Troilus and Cressida.”
Smoots said there are several reasons why he returns to APT year after year. “For one thing, it is the quality of the material. The material we do here has a proven track record of being wonderfully written,” he explained.
He also likes the special challenge of the outdoor venue. “Our outdoor theater, where these larger than life plays are being done, requires a scale to the acting that is both very precise and specific but large enough to reach the back row,” Smoots said. ~