Can't get enough Homer? Then Kings is for you. Christopher Logue's reworking of the first two books of the Iliad opened last night at the Blue Heron Arts Center, and though it has lofty goals, it never truly succeeds in its odyssey.
The epics of the Greek poet Homer have survived for thousands of years because they tell stories of great wars and conflict with exquisitely composed and often extensive imagery. Detail is seldom lacking in Homer's epic poetry, and it is equally as evident in the colorful language Logue uses in Kings to describe the characters, lands, and events of Homer's vivid story.
What is lacking in Kings is any real sense of dramatic purpose. There is much excitement contained in the text, which deals primarily with the conflict of Achilles and Agamemnon and events related to that struggle. However, far too little of that energy actually appears onstage. Once you have gotten over the novelty of the two performers in modern dress, James Doherty and Michael T. Ringer, reciting re-imagined episodes from the Iliad, little remains.
Each of the performers portrays a variety of well known figures from Greek mythology: Hera, Priam, Zeus, Hector, and Odysseus among them. And though both performers display an impressive command of voice and expression (making it easier to tell the myriad of characters apart than it may at first seem), neither manages to generate much excitement from their re-enactment. When the two actors switching chairs is the most dramatic event in a show with titanic struggles between gods and mortals, there is a significant problem.
This may be due partially to the characterizations the performers provide. Ringer inhabits his characters more successfully physically, but tends to exhibit surprise via a wide-mouthed gape at the audience once too often for it to be an effective character choice. Doherty is more effective vocally, generally providing more depth to the people he portrays, but in neither performer's hands do Homer's characters truly spring to life.
The fault most likely lies in the hands of both Logue and the director, James Milton. Though working within very constraining limits, Milton's staging is frequently insufficient, when it is even noticeable. There is no question that Logue is working from top-notch material, but though he occasionally seems to be attempting to draw parallels between the battles of Ancient Greece and modern day military conflicts, he and Milton have not found a way of making the stories of the Iliad live onstage.
The presentation of Kings is, in a way, somehow appropriate for the works of Homer. It is reminiscent of a sense of oral history, keeping alive the mythology of the Iliad's epic stories of a time no one now living remembers, but through Homer's words no one can ever forget. For that alone, Kings should be lauded, though it is far from effective on the dramatic stage.
Verse Theater Manhattan