As he has in the past, today Wall Street Journal theater critic Terry Teachout reviews productions at American Players Theatre, the Spring Green company that for arts lovers is one of the best things about summer in this part of Wisconsin.
He writes nice things. Productions of The Winter's Tale and Henry V are "models of their kind" -- though The Philanderer is only "worth seeing." As for APT itself, the company "sets high artistic standards and maintains them with effortless consistency." Today's column continues Teachout's ongoing coverage of various regional companies around the country. It's an interesting series that's not exactly what you'd expect from a major New York critic. He has written that regional theater is, alongside Broadway, "an artistically significant entity in and of itself." He promises more on APT next week, including remarks on the new, indoor Touchstone Theatre.
But I'm struck by something. When Teachout reviewed APT plays four years ago, he also wrote about Madison Repertory Theatre, along with Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. He praised Madison Rep's production of Rembrandt's Gift ("the cast is excellent") and noted the 2005-2006 season's ambitiousness, including productions to come in the soon-to-open Playhouse at Overture Center.
We know what became of Madison Rep's ambitions. Earlier this year the 40-year-old professional company folded. I didn't necessarily expect Teachout to mention Madison Rep's demise this time around, his earlier praise for the company notwithstanding. But if he has heard what happened to Madison Rep, I wonder what he makes of the news.
I believe Teachout's claim about the artistic significance of regional theater. The trouble for those of us out here in the hinterlands, a word I wish he hadn't used in today's Wall Street Journal piece, is that sometimes groups like Madison Rep are, when it comes to professional theater, just about the only game in town. Playgoers in New York, Chicago and a few other cities have their pick of high-quality companies, but here in the Madison area, it only took one unprecedently horrible recession to kill the most reliable source of good theater -- a development that, despite omens, surprised me.
True, we have options in community and student groups, and over the years I've seen fine productions from the likes of Broom Street, Middleton Players, University Theatre. But there's a difference, which perhaps is why Teachout has made it clear that in his regional explorations, he only reviews professional theater, and preferably Equity theater.
Of course, something even better may come in the wake of shuttered Madison Rep (and shuttered Milwaukee Shakespeare, and Connecticut's shuttered Stamford Theatre Works...). There could be some of that crazy Schumpeterian creative destuction they like to write about on other pages of the Wall Street Journal.
In the meantime, though, I'm nervous. Regional theater may be artistically strong, but that doesn't matter a lot if it can't survive recessions.