War Music is the second in Christopher Logue's series of plays adapted from Homer's The Iliad. Adapting a work of that nature for a performance venue in which it was never intended isn't easy, and the production of War Music at the Wings Theatre is a clear example why.
The story of War Music focuses on the struggles of Agamemnon, Achilles, and Achilles's friend Patroclus during the Trojan War. As you might expect, there are plenty of battles and action, and, as befits Homer, lots of description. Logue's text assures that you will get as thorough and epic a description as each moment deserves. In that way, Logue's adaptation is faithful to the properly oversized original.
Like Kings, however, War Music suffers from a general sense of not needing the stage. The style of the narration and the presentation of the events is dramatic only insofar as the text on which it was based is dramatic. Logue and director James Milton haven't adapted the material for the stage so much as simply presented it there, and the show often feels just this way.
Milton has staged much of War Music well, and is able to successfully evoke the feeling of both large armies and more intimate, yet equally titanic, struggles. His staging is never boring or uninteresting to watch, but because the show consists of little more than line readings, energetic as they may be, the experience tends to grow wearying after a while, and the story is frequently difficult to follow. Milton's work, strong as it frequently is, just can't do quite enough to cover up that fact.
Regardless, the performers are good - Jo Barrick, Marybeth Bentwood, and Angela Moore all possess very strong voices, and are more than capable of expressing the heightened language and emotions required. Bentwood, who plays Hector and Agamemnon (among others), makes the strongest impression, with her characters having a more watchable, down-to-earth quality that may be less true to the material, but is far more watchable onstage. For the most part, however, Barrick (Patroclus and Odysseus) and Moore (Achilles and Zeus), have the showier roles, and get more of the most exciting moments of the action.
Even so, finding those exciting moments in War Music is an uphill battle. A bare stage, modestly dressed actors, and clever direction can frequently provide all the electricity needed for a thrilling theatrical event, if the material has strength and theatricality. Logue's work has enough of the former, but far too little of the latter, leaving the evening feeling like a battle which, as both The Iliad and real life demonstrate, will not necessarily always end happily.
Verse Theater Manhattan