For those of you in the Brew City who are in need of some seasonal entertainment but Summerfest just isn’t your thing, the answer can be found in Spring Green, only two and a half hours away from Milwaukee.
There, you can catch a performance of George Farquhar’s "The Recruiting Officer," a witty, sensual and often thought-provoking story of how the human ego can be broken down.
"The Recruiting Officer" is one of nine shows being performed this season at American Players Theatre. Now, before we dive into the delightful experience of the show itself, we first need to briefly cover what to expect from the environment itself.
Spoiler alert: You won’t be disappointed. In fact, you will be absolutely amazed. To say that you are guaranteed a unique and memorable event is a severe understatement. American Players Theatre is the perfect marriage of world-class theater and top-notch amenities, all within a picturesque Wisconsin landscape.
For first-time visitors, here are two pro-tips I strongly recommend you know before you go.
One, Wollersheim Winery and Distillery is a mere 32 minutes from the parking lot. (Yes, I timed it.) I strongly urge you to get a bottle of wine to go along with your pre-show picnic. In my experience, their Prairie Fume goes perfectly with cheese, crackers and summer sausage. If that doesn’t sound like an ideal summer evening in Wisconsin, I don’t know what does.
Two, Comfortable shoes are a must. There’s no one to impress in the middle of the woods with stilettos or wedge heels. You’ll be thanking me as you make the steep treck from the picnic area to the theater.
But trust me when I say that the five-minute walk up to the Hill Theatre is well worth it – especially for a show as capably performed as "The Recruiting Officer."
Worthy and Plume, two dashing if also somewhat shady recruiting officers (hence, the title), arrive in the land of Shrewsbury after many months at sea. While they normally exemplify what it means to "have a woman in every port," Shrewsbury is different to them. Here, they have women that they actually are in love with, thankfully showing they have a glimmer of humanity in them.
But these women are no shrinking violets. While Melinda, the object of Worthy’s affection, has declined to be his mistress, Plume’s leading lady Sylvia does what anyone normally does to deal with the death of a loved one: She escapes her reality ... by disguising herself as a man. Naturally, confusion and hilarity ensue.
While George Farquhar’s play was first performed over three hundred years ago, the selection seems especially timely. Farquhar’s tender comedy effortless fuses satire and geniality to depict the army’s exploitation of money, class and sex in a modest town. Although the author’s smart plotting (and William Brown’s ingenious direction) focuses on heavy themes like army corruption, the consequences of war and sexual intrigue, it handles these serious topics with a light-heartedness that is optimistic and highly entertaining.
Of course, having a talented cast makes getting these complex themes across so much easier, and in this aspect, the actors featured in "The Recruiting Officer" do not disappoint.
Worthy and Plume, portrayed by Juan Rivera Lebron and Nate Burger, are characters that, on the surface, the audience may not initially relate to. Their brazen womanizing, after all, is not a lifestyle that one can sympathize with. Fortunately, Rivera Lebron and Burger see the humanity in these men, and play their roles with such swagger and charm that the audience is, miraculously, immediately on their side in spite of their flaws.
Andrea San Miguel’s Melinda and Kelsey Brennan’s Sylvia are also a pleasure to watch. (Brennan in particular is remarkable.) They are women who are unafraid to express their opinions, show their personalities and go after what they want. San Miguel and Brennan are exceptionally talented actresses who play these roles with every part of themselves. Each scene they are in demonstrates that they are not merely acting a part; they are becoming the women they are portraying. It’s exciting for an audience member to see a performer investing so much into a role.
Kevin Depinnet’s engrossing set design perfectly complements the natural surroundings of the Hill Theatre. In creating the world of Shrewsbury, Depinet wisely chose to have the outdoor surroundings play into his designs rather than contrast it; it isn’t a huge stretch of the imagination to place them in a quaint seaside village rather than in the middle of the Wisconsin woods.
Martha Hally’s costumes are equally impressive (although I couldn’t help having sympathy for the actors wearing long sleeves and layers on this especially warm weekend.) Her designs allowed the audience to effortlessly comprehend not only the story’s setting but also, more importantly, each character’s distinct personality. On a more elementary level, I would be thrilled and honored to wear each of Melinda’s costumes in my everyday life.
Considering the long and harsh winters we Wisconsinites annually endure, summer in our state is an especially sacred time of year. When the sun is out and the temperatures are warm, there are few things as pleasurable as being a part of the great outdoors. While this seasonal joy can always be found at American Players Theatre, the experience becomes all the more enjoyable when you see a show as entertaining and as flawlessly executed as "The Recruiting Officer."
"The Recruiting Officer" is performing at the American Players Theatre through Sept. 29. For more information on the show and tickets, visit APT's website.