By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Jun 14, 2015 at 2:25 PM

It was a scant 15 months ago when James DeVita electrified audiences with the one-man show "An Iliad" at the Milwaukee Rep.

It was a brutal performance of a brutal story and I chose it as the best play I saw last season.

It was with some trepidation that I went to another one-man show of the play, again starring DeVita, as the opening salvo in the season for the American Players Theatre in Spring Green.

Little should I have been concerned as this staging under the inventive direction of John Lang, is every bit as smart, every bit as powerful and perhaps even more moving than the one I saw just over a year ago.

In the first iteration, DeVita told the classic poem by Homer as a warrior, mixing the narrative of the story with brief portrayals of characters from the Trojan War.

This time DeVita is a professor in lecture. The stunning set by Brian Sidney Bembridge, is a classroom, complete with blackboard, a hanging skeleton, a counter with a sink and bottles of chemicals and a lectern.

DeVita enters, completely the rumpled professor from his tweed jacket to his wrinkled corduroy’s to his awfully askew tie. He seems full of good humor as he greets and teases his class (the audience) with questions and answers and his song.

The song he has been singing, we are soon to learn, for centuries. It is the song of war, of bloody battle, of heroes and those who would be heroes.

He is soon joined onstage by his muse, cellist Alicia Storin, who played the same role in Milwaukee. She never speaks but her cello serves to emphasize and clarify DeVita’s song and story. She tells her own story and having her on the stage is a wonderful moment of staging.

The poem, of course, tells the story of Hector, the king of Troy who has kidnapped Helen. Achilles leads the forces trying to bring her home.

It is a battle of titans and once DeVita gets into the story he is a fearsome and ferocious singer of this song. He opens the show, telling his class that "Everytime I sing this song, I hope it’s the last time."

It is, perhaps, the most telling setup for a story about the horror of war that you could imagine. And DeVita never disappoints.

His story is told in a culturally modern language, complete with humor and casual modern references. But just as you rest with his narrative he switches to the warrior, fighting with all the brutality and blood you can imagine.

He holds his spear as Patroclus, the son of Achilles, who wears the armor of his father and slays warrior after warrior with blunt and magnificent description. Standing on a table, sweat pouring down his face, his muscles bunched tightly, he is everyman’s vision of what it takes to be a warrior. The battlefield belongs to men and watching DeVita you wonder why you’ve never had a chance to battle like this.

But there is no glamour in this play. And the passion of DeVita is overwhelming as he makes  you recoil in horror  one moment and stand up and cheer the next.

The famed general William Tecumseh Sherman understood, perhaps better than most, what war was really and truly about.

"War is cruelty,"he said.  "There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over."

If there is a message to this production, and I’m sure there is, it must be just that. War is truly cruelty. But it does give birth to both villains and heroes.

A special word must to go Josh Schmidt, the UWM graduate and Milwaukee native, who designed the sound and the original music. Schmidt may well be the only true genius I know personally and his depth of understanding of how sound and music can move a story forward is on perfect display in this production.

This play truly belongs to DeVita. It is an emotional roller coaster ride that raises questions and provides graphic answers. But it is left to the final moment of the play, after we have been dragged through 90 minutes of brutal intensity about war and what it does to a country, a people and a man. DeVita, briefcase in hand, is about to take his leave. But he stops and stands in a single light.

"Do you see?"

"An Iliad" runs in repertory at APT and information on showtimes and tickets can be found here.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.