In Arts & Entertainment Commentary

Brian Mani played the title role in a modern dress staging of "Timon of Athens" produced by the APT in 2007. (PHOTO: Zane Williams)

Actor profile: Brian Mani of the American Players Theatre

Since its 1980 opening, the American Players Theatre in Spring Green has been telling stories that resonate with audiences on its panoramic outdoor stage. With 1,148 seats, it's a large space.

Associate artistic director Brenda DeVita talks about the shock actors new to the company feel when they stand on the stage for the first time. The woodsy amphitheater can be initially intimidating.

Not every play works in such a setting. That is why the debut of the 201-seat indoor Touchstone Theatre three years ago was so important to the APT. A huge catalog of small and intimate plays that had been unthinkable for the outdoor stage became immediately doable.

This season, the Touchstone's summer lineup consists of two single-actor pieces, "Shakespeare's Will" and "In Acting Shakespeare," and a couple of three-actor plays, "Skylight," and "Heroes." "Skylight" will feature stalwart state actor Brian Mani, who splits his year between Spring Green and Milwaukee.

A member of the APT's core company, Mani moves 115 miles east for most of the winter, regularly appearing in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Next Act Theatre and Renaissance Theaterworks productions. Not flashy, he trades in competence and consistency.

Written in the mid-'90s by British playwright David Hare, "Skylight" is an exquisitely human contemporary drama of emotional need and conflicting values that is even more relevant today than when it was first produced. It won the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for best new play in London in 1996, and subsequently had a critically praised run on Broadway.

Mani will portray a highly successful self-made London restaurateur who goes in search of his former mistress after his wife dies. The woman was a young employe of his and a friend of his wife when she fell into an affair with him. After the infidelity was discovered, the younger woman fled in shame, eventually becoming an inner city teacher, living among her pupils.

Lonely and a tad desperate, the older man goes to his ex-lover's apartment, intent on getting her back into his life. The old chemistry has not disappeared, but their lives stand for ferociously different values. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps, has become a wealthy accumulator of things, and scorns her simple life of service to the less fortunate.

"He can't win her back until he has faced all of the crap he was and is," Mani said during an interview.

Hare's dialog crackles with smart arguments and ideas, but the drama also simmers in emotional vulnerability.

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