Matt Schwader as Orlando in <i>As You Like It</i>

Mama Madison: Should I take my kids to American Players Theatre?

Or: Something's not so rotten in the state of Springfield

When my grade-school son announced he wanted to see some Shakespeare live, like it was Green Day or something, it took me by surprise. I had spent years of my life in full-on Shakespeare avoidance. That, I am somewhat proud to say, takes a significant amount of skill as an English major at a brand-name Midwestern university.

It wasn't until my early 40s that I discovered what folks have been so excited about for the last 500 years; I was absolutely blown away by James Ridge as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice at American Players Theatre in the summer of 2007. Thus, I was more than just a tad bit disappointed, although not shocked, to find out my kid's interest was not sparked by a brief encounter with Sonnet 116, but instead a re-run of The Simpsons' retelling of Hamlet with Bart as the indecisive Prince. Do I really make the trek "up the hill" with a kid who has barely mastered Shel Silverstein, based on his love of a cartoon character who may never graduate from fourth grade?

But my sister-in-law, a high school English teacher and card-carrying Shakespeare nut, was coming to visit for a week and I couldn't imagine anything that would rock her world more than an evening at APT. What the heck, my boys (13 and 10) could use a little culture -- other than Fox cartoons, of course -- and after calculating the cost of 5 plus hours of babysitting, I decided to bring 8-year-old daughter along for the ride.

Heck, even if they all slept through the whole thing, what was the worst that could really happen? So with expectations low and DEET levels high we ventured west on Highway 14 to catch a 6 p.m. performance of As You Like It.

I bet you all are expecting a Spring Green disaster story right now. But I am pleased to report that they liked it -- they really (pretty much) liked it -- each for a different, if not particularly highbrow, reason.

The eighth-grader embraced the performance believing it instantly bestowed sophistication -- kind of like drinking coffee or speaking Italian. The highlight for my daughter was an intense third grade girl-style crush on the totally cute Orlando (Matt Schwader as the new Zac Ephron, anyone?). And the fifth-grader, the guy whose completely out-of-character request sent us all to the Forest of Arden? He came home that night, memorized Macbeth's final soliloquy, started speaking in a Bard-like vs. Bart-like English and asked how soon we could see a tragedy.

Thank you, Matts -- both Schwader and Groening.

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