Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Play: War Stories

An Iliad by Denis O'Hare and Lisa Peterson, based on Homer's The Iliad, translated by Robert Fagles, Directed by Lisa Peterson, through May 16.

One-man shows are chancy things, even though they at beloved by theaters in these benighted days of reduced overheads. It all relies on just one voice, one talent, to carry it forward, and can drop easily into pretension and hyperbole.

Not the case here. We have one man (brilliant REP Actor Hans Altwies) as the unnamed Homer, telling his break-out hit, the Iliad. Homer is not blind, but instead is doomed to wander, telling and reinventing the tale as he goes. And he does a great job telling about war, history, and storytelling itself.

The story you know, or rather you should know. By odd serendipity, I am currently have the Fagles translation on my ever-growing pile of books by the bedroom. The story is late in the war between the Achaeans and the Trojans, and the tale of the great Greek hold-out, Achilles, and his noble opposition, Hector. The deal with the horse? That happens in another epic. This is a brutal tale notable for its graphic violence and horrible fates.

And it is more than that. It is about the nature of war and conflict and rage and how these things come easily to us and how, despite our rational natures, we are still prone to them, so that we can't get away from them even when we know they are horribly stupid and dangerous things.

And O'Hare and Peterson on the page, and Altwies on the stage, spin it into more. The original Iliad is a long haul, though in its original state it spellbound its Greek audience. The writers and actor do not revise (all the plot points are there), nor reinvent (no one is made more or less than they were in the original), but re-present, taking the original text and putting it into the mouth of a guy telling stories at a bar, or in a train station, or at a reunion. He pulls the tale into modern terms and in doing so humanizes the gods and heroes and in doing so makes them more real.

Altwies, to honest, is bloody brilliant, and literally spins a tale - digressing, explaining, and interjecting, turning the poem into something palatable for today's ears. And he does manage to hold the stage, sweeping us up in the epic, such that only when the torrent of phrase is interrupted do you blink and realize that you've been under a spell.

One-man shows are chancy things, but this one brings to a close an extremely effective season at the REP. Go see this one while you have the chance.

More later,