Theater review: 'An Iliad' at American Players Theatre sings an ancient song of war

Posted June 30, 2021

An Iliad Cap Times 2021

By Lindsay Christians | The Capital Times

The narrator in the musical “Hadestown” makes no secret of what the audience is in for.

“See, someone’s got to tell the tale, whether or not it turns out well,” sings Hermes, the Greeks’ tricky messenger-god. “It’s a sad tale, it’s a tragedy. ... We’re gonna sing it anyway.”

The storyteller at the center of “An Iliad,” knows this impulse. It is deep in his weary bones, the need to keep telling ancient stories of war and rage and loss.

“Every time I sing this song, I hope it’s the last time,” says the man, known simply as The Poet. “But it’s a good story. I remember a lot of it.”

American Players Theatre seeks comfort in the classics, and “An Iliad,” first staged here in 2015, is a knockout piece for one of its many talented actors. No surprise, then, that after a year of suspended performances and empty stages, the Spring Green company returns to a successful staging with much the same cast and creative team.

Open since Sunday, the current production of “An Iliad” runs through Aug. 15 in limited capacity performances. It will be available online starting Tuesday.

APT actor, director and playwright Jim DeVita has played the Poet a few times now. We saw him first at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, the Quadracci stage turned to urban rubble. John Langs directed APT’s production six years ago and does so again. This Poet is an impassioned professor in tweed and a vest, one who may or may not have been a witness to the battles he relates.

A little hazy on Trojan War facts outside of that big horse? The Poet tells what led to it: nine years of war, fought by boys from the farmlands and fishing villages of Greece against the “full of hubris, but decent” leader Hector and his Trojan men.

Blame Homer, but “An Iliad” is a mythological parade of toxic masculinity. On the Greek side, there’s Achilles, part god, part man, who feuds with King Agamemnon over “prizes” (women, naturally). On the Trojan side, Paris is a wastrel. His brother Hector is, our narrator says, a good man, a good father. The description of how he murders Achilles’ childhood best friend in battle is stomach-turning.

Read the full review here!