American Players Theatre
5950 Golf Course Road
P.O. Box 819
Spring Green, WI 53588
Box Office: 608-588-2361
“An Iliad” at American Players Theatre addresses our tumultuous times. By Gwendolyn Rice, Isthmus.
The Poet is back. He is at American Players Theatre in An Iliad through Aug. 15, and he is not to be missed. Tapping into the emotional truth of an ancient war, the play not only penetrates the mind and heart, but seizes our imagination through a masterful storyteller who alternately fascinates and horrifies us. He tells the tale of a historical event, but more importantly, he paints a picture of human slaughter from plagues, from misplaced loyalties, from the evil whims of the gods, and most of all from succumbing to our own worst impulse: unbridled rage.
It’s been six years since APT Core Company member James DeVita took to the stage in the indoor Touchstone Theatre as the narrator of An Iliad. This encore is an imaginative retelling of Homer’s epic, adapted by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, featuring a man who is destined — or perhaps doomed — to wander the world sharing the story of one of the world’s most notorious struggles; the 10-year siege of Troy. Although the exceptional production is back with the same cast and director John Langs reprising their roles, the harrowing story of war and its cost is told through a decidedly different lens this time around. It feels more jaded and weary, which is only appropriate for our post-pandemic present.
When we previously saw The Poet, he was a dashing historian, lecturing to the audience from a college classroom circa 1950. He approached his task of unflinchingly illustrating the horrors of war with equal parts confidence and gravity. In An Iliad 2021, the charismatic lecturer who lured us into his story so easily is gone.
Instead we see an older and meeker Poet onstage when the lights come up, amidst a scene of vandalism. The familiar set pieces of blackboards, books, a biology class skeleton, and the overhead projector have been defiled. Graffiti is spray-painted across the room and red paint is splattered across the map that hangs on the back wall. Books have been burned, their charred edges and ash still evident where they fell to the floor. A set of scales has been tossed aside, shoved into a sink. Furniture is overturned. And like a gross prank from a school bully, the poor skeleton pokes its bony fingers into its own hollow eye sockets. Unlike the last production, this one portrays a world where science, literature and history are under attack.