Set during the ten-year long Trojan War, Homer's original work focuses mainly on those events between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles during a few weeks in the final year of the war. It also mentions many of the Greek legends surrounding the siege, the earlier events leading up to it, and prophecies for the future. The Iliad is usually paired with The Odyssey , also attributed to Homer. Together they are among the oldest works of Western literature, dating to around the eighth century BC.
What is it about a war that occurred thousands of years ago that remains so resonant today? In the words of An Iliad director Lisa Peterson: "Somewhere in the world, people are always at war". In 2003-2004 she and Denis O'Hare were inspired by the events of the early days of the Iraq War to examine plays dealing with what it's like to be in a war. Together they wisely chose Homer's The Iliad whose first word, menin, means wrath, rage, passion, "anger that stores itself up for a long time". As The Iliad is a remnant of the oral tradition, it was always meant to be a story told aloud. A theatrical adaptation therefore actually restores it to its original intent.
Our poet (Avi Hoffman) arrives at a war-torn fortress amidst the distant sounds of gunfire. He himself is road weary from his travels, with guitar and knapsack in hand. The setting and his dress are contemporary yet timeless. He speaks of previous assignations where he has told the tale he is about to tell to varying degrees of success. He spouts some lines in Greek, attempts to engage the audience at hand, paces about a bit, and finally, after being fortified by some tequila he has brought along, begins his tale.
A 90-minute one-man show is no easy feat, especially when the subject matter is intense rather than lighthearted. Fortunately, actor Avi Hoffman is quite experienced at one-man shows, having created and starred in countless performances of his own one-man shows Too Jewish, Too Jewish Two! and Still Jewish After All These Years.
Hoffman's performance is a masterful acting exercise. Obviously, his character has a story to share that he has told before, but he is the king of speaking as though everything he is saying is unplanned, and each moment is fresh and new. Through well timed pauses he creates the image of the Poet struggling to remember all the details of the events of the Trojan War he is describing, and genuinely becoming sidetracked by his own embellishments of the story. What makes his performance so strong is his emotional reactions to the story as he recalls it. He is at times burdened with the anguish of the events, or worn down by the gruesomeness of the details that he steps away from the telling of the tale. Bolstered by a swig or two of alcohol, he then barrels on. His pacing and control is formidable, and he manages to find scattered moments which lighten the mood enough to continue to keep our interest.
As Hoffman recreates the events of that last week of the Trojan War, the lighting and sound shift to reflect the intensity of each moment. It feels as though he is telling of something that just happened last week to people that he knew. He is emotionally invested without being emotionally overwhelmed, and so is both compelled and compelling. At the end of the play we see that the urgency with which he shares his story is because it is one which has repeated, and will continue to repeat itself over and over again. Images of war are projected behind him as a seemingly endless chronological list of major wars rings out. He presses his hands to his ears as if to drown it out. The play and actor beautifully manage to bring home the point of An Iliadthe unchangingly inevitable outcome of actions of war driven by rage. And as the timeless story of war goes on, one wonders if our Poet is doomed to walk the earth retelling his tale.
The Outre Theatre production of An Iliad will be appearing through April 21, 2013, at the Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center Studio Theatre. The Studio Theatre is located at 201 Plaza Real, at the south end of Mizner Park, in Boca Raton, Florida (the former site of the International Museum of Cartoon Art). Show times are Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 5:00 pm.. For tickets and information you may call them at 954-300-2149 or reach them online at outretheatrecompany.com.
The Outre Theatre Company began in 2011. They are an emerging professional theatre company hiring local Equity, and non-Equity actors and actresses. Their vision is to be a theatre that nurtures the creative spirit of individuals and the community, through original and established works, utilizing a variety of mediums to engage the souls and imaginations of the artists and the audience. Their mission is to create theatre which stimulates thought, provokes reflection, and encourages activism.
*Indicates member of Actors' Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers.