APT Offers Two Holiday Tales

Both streamed. One based on ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is a true delight.

By - Dec 4th, 2020 11:43 am
Nate Burger in This Wonderful Life. Photo courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

Nate Burger in This Wonderful Life. Photo courtesy of the American Players Theatre.

The American Players Theatre of Spring Green has launched two paywall opportunities online for the holidays and both require predispositions on the audience side.

The first predisposition is easiest and most likely – deep affection for It’s a Wonderful Life, the Frank Capra film starring Jimmy Stewart and a host of residents of Bedford Falls and angelic heaven. This Wonderful Life, created by Steve Murray though based mightily on the film, unfolds in apparently one Zoom shot as if the most inventive dinner guest imaginable was regaling the ensemble with quick-voice and quick-mood change plunges through the entire screenplay – crusty Potter over there, hapless pharmacist Gower over these, knowing sweet Mary here, belligerent bartender Nick sounding a bit like the actor (later producer) who played him, Sheldon Leonard.

The holiday guest in this case is APT veteran actor and jokester Nate Burger, jumping in and out of a leather chair and ducking out of lens when he is splashing in the high school pool or jumping off the bridge. His garb sometimes adjusts to the tale, he holds miniature lights at times to emulate the angelic voices and he throws in a few modernistic asides and ever-so-light hints of the story’s meaning, letting us in on the gag.

If the sketch-like nature of the piece occasionally makes Burger seem facile, he is so fluid and giddy in his delight in the tale that the 80 minutes (and probably $25 for patrons who sign up through Dec. 29) do fly by.

The same can’t be said for the APT’s other holiday offering though only 60 minutes, titled APT’s Holidames: Tangled in Tinsel, a pastiche of intended holiday cheer, featuring three performers who in length of service and range of leads are indeed what passes for royalty (they’re titled APT Royalty in the promotional material) in a company devoted to the repertory approach to classics and new works.

(Repertory always connoted something of “no royalty, we are all just regular minstrels,” but that has hardly ever been true, back to the founding predecessors of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater when audiences were drawn to the old Fred Miller Theater to see the likes of Will Geer and Rosemary Murphy pretending to be just two of the traveling players.)

No question the visitors to the beautiful Spring Green grounds (featured in a brief travelogue in a production that also ends with stills from many productions I have seen) would agree with the royalty title for Colleen Madden, Tracy Michelle Arnold and Sarah Day, though I would rate the trio from capable to excellent. And no, you won’t get me in this circumstance to say which is which, though I highly admire Day’s vocal and physical versatility.

But seriously, it is a bit embarrassing for APT – which seeks national recognition for its company prowess – to put Tangled in Tinsel forward as representative of its best work. Technically the production features the normal Zoom finesse with three screen boxes and changing backgrounds, but that has become standard even in home movies. But we are paying to sit through routine Christmas carols, a slice of Dickens, the dear Virginia letter, the “Night Before Christmas” poem and segments on how to make a holiday wreath or joke around about Mrs. Cratchit having a blog. The actors’ talents are being over-punched and their appeal becomes over-hyped.

Fortunately the two offerings can be bought separately if you start off here. You will be asked to open a free account at Broadway on Demand and the site’s browser of preference is Chrome, but not essential.

Dominique Paul Noth served for decades as film and drama critic, later senior editor for features at the Milwaukee Journal. You’ll find his blog here and here.

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