After reviewing their marvelous Comedy of Errors, Stan and I revisited the Aquila Theatre Company for their production of The Iliad: Book One. This stirring anti-war version of the bitter dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon, in the midst of the Trojan War, is staged in modern military gear, with the roar of aircraft and the explosion of bombs, reminding us that war is still very much a part of our lives.
Robert Richmond, the companyís excellent director, begins this production with the sad sight of soldiers going off to war. As their loved ones wave them on, a feeling of sadness sweeps through the audience. We sense the loneliness and vulnerability of those left behind. In slow motion, with lightning and smoke setting a fearful background for the war to come, the soldiers move towards the audience almost challenging us to fight. The musical score rumbles as we watch in horror the carnage, abduction, rape and mayhem that ensues. This is one of the most frightening and dramatic scenes I have ever witnessed on stage. With only a few actors, we are quickly overwhelmed by the tragedy of war.
This opening is so dramatic I felt a slight letdown when the actors began to speak. But this is quickly overcome as we are swept into the story. King Agamemnon, in his greed for another ďprizeĒ of war, has abducted Chyseis, the daughter of a priest of Apollo. This has angered the god and caused the Greeks to suffer a plague until the girl is returned. Agamemnon is a stubborn whiner and refuses. He wants to keep Chyseis as his concubine, complaining that he should have a prize like everyone else. Achilles becomes furious at Agamemnonís disregard of Apolloís warning and the two allies become enemies. Like possessive children with their toys, they took the women of their enemy either as a ďprizeĒ in battle, as Briseis was to Achilles, or through abduction and rape, as was the case with Chyseis. Their conflict sets in motion all that follows in this masterpiece. Dressed in modern combat uniforms, these warriors and their women remind us of the suffering people endure when self-serving leaders overreach in their thirst for power and revenge.
Once again, the performances of the Aquilla Theatreís excellent actors make a difficult production work. Itís amazing to watch Louis Batelli emerge as the tyrannous and brutal King Agamemnon, when just a week before he was playing the funny, abused and confused servant Dromio in Comedy of Errors. Seeing David Caron play Achilles, the greatest of Greek warriors, after performing the part of the twin Antipholuses (neither of whom even slightly resembles a Greek demigod) is not a feat we are used to seeing in New York. In her effortless manner, the brilliant actress Lisa Carter finds the essence of motherhood in the goddess, Thetis, as she was able to find pathos in the part of the unpleasant wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, Adriana. And Mira Kingsley captures the spirit of Achillesí wretched concubine Briseis, as well as the loneliness of prudish Luciana, whose frozen heart thaws with love in Comedy of Errors.
Iíve read about it. Iíve heard about it. And at last Iíve seen it. A repertory company that actually works. I for one canít wait to see their next production, Rostandís Cyrano de Bergerac, which is to be presented at Clark Studio Theatre in Lincoln Center from August 17th to September 17th.
The Aquila Theatre Company