Review: An Improbable Fiction perfect homage to APT history to kick-off Hill Theater season

Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

Photo via APT

An Improbable Fiction kicked off American Players Theatre’s (APT) 2021 Hill Theater season on May 27 with a nod to APT’s strong connection to Shakespearean theater in the quippy play written by James DeVita. 

This play was originally written and given as a table read in APT’s Out of the Woods series, and according to the summary on the theater’s website, the play has been almost entirely reworked for it’s world stage debut. 

While I didn’t see the original table read, the most striking thing about the performance was that you can absolutely tell that it was written, directed and performed by a group of people who, for many years, have lived, breathed, slept and performed shakespearean theater—the words and jokes were written perfectly for the characters, the actions and temperaments of the characters were portrayed by actors who can only portray complex, almost ancient characters like that when they’ve intimately known them before. Essentially, this show was the perfect summary of what you get when you think APT, world class Shakespeare. 

I’ll be upfront and honest, my knowledge and familiarity with Shakespeare ends with High School AP English, I’ve only read a handful of his works and I probably couldn’t pick them out of a lineup. With that said, I still thoroughly enjoyed this work, but my familiarity with the characters and references definitely made it harder to follow (It took me about half way through the play to realize Chiké Johnson was portraying Othello.) 

Director Tim Ocel describes the play as “Six Shakespearen characters walk into a bar…” and that’s truly, exactly it. The five characters in the play, Sir John Falstaff, Mistress Nell Quickly, Cleopatra, Othello, Juliet and a messenger are the characters, and the entire play takes place inside a tavern, during a public shut down because of a plague outbreak. The characters are forced to take a long look at their lives, their loves and their intertwined relationship they share as creations of Shakespeare. It seems like it was written to be the perfect mix of drama, comedy and tragedy that comes with this type of theater. 

My favorite part of the performance is that the characters are actually aware that they’re fictional characters, they’re aware that their lives are completely controlled, adjusted and determined by Lord Shakespeare’s pen. References to that are sprinkled through the play in passing statements, but in the end it becomes a larger part of the plot and message to the story—to me, at the end of the play the characters learn to love their fiction-ness, the beauty in being able to persevere and entertain millions of people across generations as fictional characters. 

I also think it’s really interesting the story takes place during a lockdown because of the plague, it’s interesting to know that this play really came to life during COVID, and to see how that could have possibly inspired DeVita in the writing process. 

Ultimately, if you’re not a shakespeare fan, this performance is still enjoyable mostly because you can see and feel the passion from the people who wrote and performed it for the characters involved, you can tell it’s a group of people who have intimately performed shakespearean theater for a very long time, and truly understand it’s place, meaning and essence. 

If you’re a Shakespeare fan, this play will be a super fun, ingenuitive way to experience some of the A-1 characters in the playwrights collection. 

An Improbable Fiction runs at the Hill Theater until June 26, tickets can be purchased at APT is currently offering limited availability in its theaters due to COVID-19 guidelines.