Thursday, March 8, 2012

An Iliad: A Storyteller Tired of War

An Iliad, an adaptation of Robert Fagles's translation of Homer's The Iliad by Denis O'Hare and Lisa Peterson is a unique anti-war treatise filled with humor and sadness.  "The Poet" played in repertory by Denis O'Hare and Stephen Spinella plays the traditional role of oral storyteller singing the tale of the Trojan War.  Assisted by a Bassist (Brian Ellingsen--super cute by the way), the Poet proceeds to tell a modern audience an ancient tale and in doing so builds parallels to modern life.

Rather than just a celebration of great warriors or an explication of the meddling Greek Gods, this Poet tells the human story behind the Iliad.  I saw O'Hare perform the role of the Poet.  Dressed as a vagabond and asking for assistance from the muses (his Bassist appears and plays music at varying points throughout the show), the Poet at times is reticent to speak of the past, in other moments carried away by the muses and full of vigor.  But at all times, the Poet is speaking to us, the audience, directly, aware of our presence and begging our attention.  The Poet seems to possess the men and women of Greece and Troy and not only tells his story but feels everything that these people felt.  Subtlety and then more directly, the Poet tries to draw parallels to all wars including current ones. 


It was a captivating approach to material that could otherwise be dry.  I will admit to being a little poisoned by the film Troy for at every mention of Achilles, I thought to myself, "Right.  Brad Pitt."  But I enjoyed the focus on the human struggle in the epic tale of heroes: the vastness of the army, the sensation of nine years away and at war, the smells of the encampment, the character of the soldiers.  At 100 minutes with no intermission, the performance is itself epic.  At times sweat was pouring off O'Hare's face and the entire works rests on his shoulders.

Supported with interesting sound, music and lighting, the play was strongest when it was about the dialogue with the audience--about the telling of the story more so than the story itself.  I liked the idea of being audience to a traditional storyteller singing this tale (though to be clear there is no actual "singing").  An Iliad is best appreciated as bearing witness to one storyteller weaving the tale as he wants to tell it with his own agenda coming through.

As an avid lover of storytellers and monologuists, for me that was the angle I enjoyed most.

1 comment:

  1. I hope I can handle seeing this twice in one weekend (to see both O'Hare and Spinella). *fingers crossed*

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