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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, April 21, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment Commentary

David Daniel, as Philoctetes, holds a magical arrow in front of Paul Hurley in the American Players Theatre's "The Cure at Troy." Photo: Zane Williams

In Arts & Entertainment Commentary

James DeVita (foreground) and Brian Mani in "Of Mice and Men." Photo: Carissa Dixon

Seeing the ultimate at the American Players Theatre


Spring Green -- Coming here to see the American Players Theatre stage the classics is among the many joys of being a theater critic in Wisconsin since 1980. I was in the audience on the night Henry Strozier made the first entrance in the first production ("A Midsummer Night's Dream") the company mounted, and I have seen nearly every show the APT has produced since.

A thrilling parade of exceptional actors has crossed the company's stages in 31 years. Many of the best have stayed for long periods of time. This is where outstanding classical actors who focus on the work rather than fame come to live and practice their craft.

With that firmly in mind, I am going to make an audacious assertion. Veteran company member David Daniel is delivering the best performance in APT history this summer.

The play is the seldom produced "The Cure at Troy," Irish poet Seamus Heaney's 1990 adaptation of "Philoctetes," an obscure tragedy written by Sophocles. The production in the APT's indoor Touchstone Theatre sneaked in below the radar here this summer as the company mounted such high profile works as "Blithe Spirit," "The Taming of the Shrew" and "The Glass Menagerie."

"Cure" is the contemporary retelling of the Homeric tale of a Greek archer (Philoctetes) who owns a magical bow and arrows. The arrows never miss their target.

Despite that, Philoctetes is the victim of abandonment on an isolated island by his fellow warriors until Greek military authorities decide they need his weapon in their drawn-out war against Troy. The decent and principled son of Achilles is given the assignment of finding the archer and tricking him into surrendering the bow and arrows.

Heaney is a Nobel Prize-winning poet whose only other play is an adaptation of another of Sophocles' works, "The Burial at Thebes." A native of Northern Ireland, the poet saw his land's endless Catholic-Protestant conflict reflected in the issues raised in "Philoctetes." Although that 20th century situation is never mentioned in the play, a speech Heaney added to the ancient text was frequently quoted when peace was negotiated in Northern Ireland in 1998.

Human nature is the topic here. Can we set aside valid anger and grievances to get on with our lives, or do we wallow in corrosive, self-defeating bitterness?

The end justifying the means and following orders that trouble our conscience are also examined in this vividly engaging two-hour drama.

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