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Thursday, October 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 39.0° F  Fair
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American Players Theatre adds a modern translation of Euripedes' Alcestis to its 2014 lineup
Frank: "It's incredible when hands stretch from the 20th century to the 5th century B.C."
Credit:American Players Theatre

With the new year comes a new addition to the 2014 season calendar for Spring Green's American Players Theatre, plus a new title for associate artistic director Brenda DeVita. Producing artistic director David Frank retires later this year, and DeVita, a 20-year APT veteran, officially assumed the role of artistic director on Jan. 1. Frank is slated to helm the just-announced production: Euripides' Alcestis, translated by former British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. The Greek masterwork will be staged in the 200-seat Touchstone Theatre Oct. 10 through Nov. 9.

Frank jumped at the challenge to make an ancient play resonate with a contemporary audience. This will be his swan song as producing artistic director.

"This is not straightforward," he says. "For me, the mix of ancient Greeks and 20th-century English poets is fascinating, but it was hard to apply until we got the Touchstone [since] it requires more resources than usual."

Though Frank is enamored of many ancient Greek works, Hughes' version of Alcestis spoke to him the most recently.

"I went through a lot of 20th-century poets and their versions of the great Greeks, and this is the one I couldn't put down," he says. "The chance to [stage] something like this is hard to come by."

According to a news release from APT, Alcestis will star such audience favorites as David Daniel, Colleen Madden, Brian Mani, James Ridge, Marcus Truschinski, Cristina Panfilio and Melisa Pereyra. By telling a classical story through contemporary poetry, the production should provide an ideal link between the Up-the-Hill Theatre's tradition of presenting centuries-old classics and the Touchstone Theatre's predilection toward modern works.

As Frank puts it, "It's incredible when hands stretch from the 20th century to the 5th century B.C. It connects us to our roots, and yet the product Hughes has come up with couldn't be more contemporary...He writes with a lack of pretense that's exciting."

Though Euripedes wrote Alcestis more than 2,400 years ago, several of its storylines seem fit for superpower-driven sci-fi like Misfits, a popular British program that's gained an eager American following recently.

Alcestis revolves around a rich and famous couple, King Admetus and Queen Alcestis, who face a grave problem: Admetus will soon die unless someone volunteers to take his place. No one's willing to do it, not even his father, until one brave character offers herself as a sacrifice. In another plot thread, Heracles, a Hellenic hero and buddy of Admetus, visits town and proceeds to get drunk, unaware that the community is in mourning. When he realizes his blunder, he tries to make good by confronting Death in the underworld.

"Hughes' handling of the underworld, it's very nihilistic," Franks notes. "But just when you think the worst will happen, there's a miracle. We all need our own miracle, but it will be different for every person...It's not an easy piece, but I love it, and I love the challenge."

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