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In Arts & Entertainment Commentary

Deborah Staples with Lee Ernst in a 1997 production of "Cyrano de Bergerac" at the American Players Theatre. (Photo: Zane Williams)

In Arts & Entertainment Commentary

Susan Sweeney returns to the professional stage after 15 years. (Photo: Carissa Dixon)

Life imitates art at the American Players Theatre

SPRING GREEN – In Noel Coward's evergreen comedy "Blithe Spirit," a novelist's deceased first wife comes back to haunt him in an attempt to cause trouble in his second marriage. The play is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its world premiere in London, and the American Players Theatre is mounting it on the company's outdoor stage in Spring Green this summer.

Life comes close to imitating art in the production. James DeVita plays the writer, and during his offstage hours he has written several novels for young adults.

As the APT's leading man, DeVita worked with actress Deborah Staples as his leading lady before she concentrated her career exclusively on the Milwaukee Rep. To a great extent, she was replaced as DeVita's main stage squeeze by actress Colleen Madden.

After a 10-year absence, Staples is returning to the APT this summer, and she will join DeVita and Madden onstage in "Blithe Spirit." She will play the meddlesome first wife while Madden portrays spouse No. 2. Could casting be more delicious than that?

APT producing artistic director David Frank is ecstatic to have Staples back in his acting stable. "She is brilliant," he said during a chat in his office this week.

"Some of Deb's performances here are etched in my mind forever. And she has fit right back into the company as if she had never been away."

In addition to playing Elvira in "Blithe Spirit," Staples will portray Ariel in "The Tempest" and several roles in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 18th century satire, "The Critic."

The actress, who has given birth to two daughters since she last worked at the APT, called her return to the company "joyous." "All of the planets aligned to make this happen," she added.

A change in how the Milwaukee Rep configures its season is allowing Staples to maintain her membership in that resident ensemble while working the full summer and fall at the APT. Rep production runs now vary greatly in length, and artistic director Mark Clements is encouraging his company actors to also perform elsewhere.

Staples' daughters, who are 8 and 3, will join her in Spring Green when school is out. "There are so many families with children in this company, and we are looking forward to being a part of that," she said.

Although the actress was seen in fewer Rep productions than usual last season, she worked the same number of weeks, a function of the longer runs some shows now receive. "I am entirely committed to being a company member there," she said.

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