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Everything's open at American Players Theatre, from 'Earnest' to G.B. Shaw's 'Doctor's Dilemma'

Everything's open at American Players Theatre, from 'Earnest' to G.B. Shaw's 'Doctor's Dilemma'

SPRING GREEN — The last two plays of the main summer season at American Players Theatre opened this past weekend on a sunny, muggy Saturday. 

The third and final play in the Touchstone Theatre, "Travesties," has been something of a sleeper hit. It sold out almost all performances fairly quickly, but a quick visit to the website shows that availability can change by the day. 

The play itself, as I wrote in Monday's review on 77 Square, is difficult to pin down, "part vaudeville show, part literary jungle gym." 

A comedy written by Tom Stoppard in 1974, "Travesties" imagines the interactions between Irish author James Joyce (Nate Burger), bizarre, hyperactive Dadaist Tristan Tzara (Matt Schwader in a monocle) and the grave Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin (Eric Parks). 

The man connecting them all is Henry Carr, a low level British diplomat played by Marcus Truschinski. As an old man, Carr describes these men, all of whom were actually in Zurich in 1917, interwoven with his memories of playing Algernon ("not Ernest, the other one") in "The Importance of Being Earnest."

At APT, William Brown directs both "Earnest" and "Travesties," and many actors reprise their roles.

"As Stoppard's script quotes and flips Wilde's text, Brown and his designers repurpose everything else, sprinkling references through the latter play like Easter eggs," I wrote.

"For the set, Nathan Stuber lifts the big, red, indecipherable painting from 'Earnest' Act I and turns it into doors. Matthew LeFebvre echoes his own costume design in Cecily's pink striped skirt and Carr's green velvet smoking jacket.

"Marcus Truschinski plays both Algernon and Henry Carr with the same Cheshire cat grin and undisguised glee."

The final play to open up the hill, Aaron Posner's adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's 1906 drama, "The Doctor's Dilemma," is somewhat less successful, a failing largely due to the script.

"Posner's staging, smartly, turns 'Doctor's Dilemma' into a melodrama," I wrote in Monday's review in 77 Square.

The players use stage directions to set the scene, and Shaw's own (often comically unflattering) descriptions of their characters to introduce themselves. 

Each introduction is set to dramatic musical and light cues to set them apart. Taken together, these are the funniest parts of the show.

"The Doctor's Dilemma" centers on a doctor (Brian Mani) who has discovered a cure for tuberculosis.

His resources are limited, however, so when two men need the cure — a virtuous, poor doctor (David Daniel) who is a friend of his, and an artistic genius (Samuel Taylor) who is also a bit of a bum — the doctor is torn.

Complicating things is the artist's beautiful wife (Abbey Siegworth), whom the doctor would like for himself.

Despite some fun performances from John Pribyl, Paul Bentzen and John Taylor Phillips as the other doctors, "Doctor's Dilemma" doesn't rise to the level of APT's other Shaw stagings (most recently, an excellent "Major Barbara" in 2010).

In the absence of real emotional connections, the whole thing feels a bit silly and preachy.

The best parts of the play are arguably Posner's, including a moving introduction presented by the actors playing themselves. They deliver this onstage, in costume, and talk about their personal experiences with doctors.

"Paul Bentzen explains he would be blind in one eye, if not for a Spring Green doctor," I noted in the review. "Melisa Pereyra (this season's Juliet) reveals that she has mistrusted doctors since the death of her parents when she was young.

"There's no doubt that the issues in 'The Doctor's Dilemma' feel contemporary. ... But while the ideas feel relevant, the stock characters and philosophizing in 'The Doctor's Dilemma' don't connect to the heart."

The main season at American Players Theatre concludes on Sunday, Oct. 5, with a final performance of "Much Ado About Nothing." David Frank, APT's producing artistic director, departs the company with a final production of "Alcestis," opening Oct. 10 in the Touchstone Theatre.