One of the oldest stories in literature is Homer’s “Iliad” set during the Trojan War.
Playwrights Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare have given the epic tale a modern revision, allowing audiences to see the horror of war through the lens of not just one epic battle, but the wars of three millennia.
“An Iliad” runs through May 26; critics have found it raw, powerful, captivating and electric.
Stephen Yoakam as The Poet in Guthrie Theater’s production of “An Iliad”
Photo by Aaron Fenster
A bit slow moving at the start, An Iliad is like a 400-page novel: each chapter must be set up by the previous ones before it can speed ahead to the most exciting parts. Like so often is the case, however, patience is rewarded. As the stories and emotions tumble out, layers of Yoakam’s costume are stripped away until what’s left is Homer in his most raw and honest state. Here standing before us is a man who’s seen and experienced a lifetime’s worth of pain; a man begging his listeners to heed his warning, abandon hate, and choose to love. Whether or not we have the courage to do so is up to us.
From Graydon Royce at the Star Tribune:
The power of “An Iliad” is its refusal to cluck with self righteousness, as so many preachy agitprop dramas do. (You know, geeks dressed in leotards howling at George Bush.) Yoakam’s Poet is a brawny and vexed man who understands the terrible beauty of this vicious sport. And by wading into that mysterious realm with honest integrity, he lets this pool of spilled blood tell its own story.
“An Iliad” runs at the Guthrie Theater through May 26
Photo by Aaron Fenster
Throughout, Yoakam holds us captivated. The conversational script — only short bits are in verse (and in Greek as well) — makes the engagement between actor and audience easy, but it is Yoakam’s skill that keeps our focus through a well-known story. Some of the most riveting moments come when the Poet goes off script. At times, he abandons the story to recount images from other futile battlefields of history, such as World War I. Or, in one harrowing moment, he recites war after war that has been fought since the fall of Troy. Here, Yoakam is at his best, making us feel the weariness and loss as each war is cited.
It’s a rangy, eclectic and sometimes electric performance, filled with bravura moments but utterly devoid of the look-at-me theatrics to which a lesser performer or a lesser story might be prone.
Have you seen “An Iliad” at the Guthrie? What’s your review?