If you are looking for an excellent theatrical diversion that doesn’t involve holiday caroling, The North Coast Repertory Theatre offers an outstanding production of AN ILIAD that you should not miss.
“The Iliad” may be one of the oldest works in the world and has inspired many variations and tellings of what happened between Achilles, Hector, and other warriors during that mythical battle of Troy. That’s why this adaption, by Lisa Peterson, Denis O’Hare, is AN ILIAD. It’s the addition of “an” that claims this specific point of view as its own. It replaces the poetry of “The Iliad” that you read in high school with contemporary language and examples, underscoring the modern parallels to the ancient story.
Richard Baird is the world-weary narrator known as “The Poet;” a wanderer who has found himself in a place where he can recount his tale. He is a personable and anonymous figure that draws the audience in with his charm and confidence.
Baird’s Poet tells his tale with a whiskey rough voice, that reflects both the character’s fondness for spirits, and weariness of retelling this tale so much. It’s a dynamic performance that navigates highs and lows, with characters coming one after the other. This ancient text was a performance text before it was ever written down, and Baird makes the ancient truths in the story sing out with present-day power.
“Every time I sing this song, I hope it’s the last time.” As the story goes on it’s easy to see how the Poet is exhausted both physically and emotionally reliving the story through his oration. Baird brings bloodlust, the chaos of battle, and the way rage can overcome any other emotions or impulses admirably to life.
Baird is not fully alone on stage, accompanied by the Muse, cellist Amanda Scharr. Her musical accompaniment and soundscape add depth and theatricality to the tale.
Directed by David Ellenstein, the show keeps its focus which could have been difficult when dealing with numerous characters, battles, and asides. As the actions of the characters and the bloody cost of the battle escalate so too does the momentum on stage.
The play’s focus is clearly on the cost of rage, battle, and masculine pride that is paid in the blood, sweat, and souls of the soldiers on the battlefield. Even after many battles and losses one character still threatens “Don’t stir my rage, don’t make me angry!”
As it switches back and forth between battles, interfering gods, the warriors, and their families the text has little interest in finding purchase in the softer emotions. Menelaus, the husband whose wife was stolen that caused this turmoil is scarcely mentioned, the wailing of the widowed women, the lives of those who are not soldiers are all glanced upon and then danced off.
Even the love between Achilles and Patroclus is only thinly mentioned before bouncing back into battle. This makes Achilles’ later ability to overcome the rage he feels seem a bit hollow since it doesn’t feel like it comes from a place of empathy on losing a loved one himself.
Set design by Marty Burnett is a timeless stage, equipped with a ghost light waiting for the next storyteller to arrive. When Baird’s Poet does arrive the light doesn’t so much drive away any ghosts as help Baird invite and illuminate them onstage. Props by Phillip Korth and cinematography and editing by Aaron Rumley round out the piece.
Maybe AN ILIAD is fitting for the holiday season after all; The Poet is like the Ghosts of Christmas present, past, and future all wrapped in one. He speaks to the ancient and seemingly everlasting human addiction to violence, war, and forever searching for the glory in battle. We see the same catalysts played out on foreign battlefields, in political pundits stoking divisions, or even fighting with people on the internet. If we learn from the Poet’s tale maybe we can wake up and learn something to make tomorrow a different day.
AN ILIAD by North Coast Repertory Theatre is playing through January 3rd. Tickets to access the performance can be purchased at www.northcoastrep.org
When you purchase your ticket to the performance you will be sent a link to watch. Once you have clicked the link you will have 48 hours of access to view it.
Adapted by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare
Translated by Robert Fagles
Directed by David Ellenstein
The Poet – Bichard Baird
The Muse – Amanda Schaar
Scenic Designer Marty Burnett
Music by Michael Silversher
Cinematographer/Editor Aaron Rumley
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