War is Still Hell
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: Dominion Energy Center, Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse, 600 E. Grace Street, RVA 23219
Performances: March 24 – April 16, 2022
Ticket Prices: $24 – $45
Info: (804) 340-0115 or quilltheatre.org
AN ILIAD (2010) is a masterful piece of storytelling. Director Lisa Peterson and actor Denis O’Hare adapted Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad, into a play for one actor. Many of the characters – and places – will be familiar to some: Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, Paris, Helen, Troy. But even if you did not pay attention in your high school literature classes, you will be able to relate. This is more than a retelling of an ancient tale. Whereas Homer’s The Iliad tell the story of the final year of the Trojan War, An Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War from a contemporary perspective. What makes it relevant? Well, the Trojan War went on so long – some ten years – that people began to forget why they were fighting, what they were fighting for, what the end goal was, and that has a ring of familiarity for us today.
The Poet (Alec Beard) appears carrying a battered suitcase filled with a bottle of whiskey, a glass, and some papers containing, what – photos? memories? His overcoat, hat, and scarf signal that he is a time traveler. The stage is a war-torn battleground of scaffolds, an overturned chair, deserted props and tools. It is a place that appears to have been abandoned in a hurry, due to the ravages of neglect, disinterest, a war, a pandemic, or some unnamed man-made catastrophe. A ghost light on stage at the beginning and ending of the play seals the metaphoric atmosphere: security, superstition, repetition, tradition.
Beard holds our attention from start to finish, wielding a paint roller as a scepter, a random table leg as a spear, and words as weapons and keys. Beard is mesmerizing as The Poet. In the background, cellist Chris Chorney provides a timeless acoustic soundscape, and serves as a foil for Beard’s ruminations. When Beard tells a joke about Achilles, Chorney remains poker-faced; it’s as if he’s heard it all before, many, many times before. The Poet is like a vampire, immortal, timeless, no longer moved by the bizarre and inexplicable road rage that litters human history, even when animatedly re-enacting scenes from the past atrocities we seem determined to repeat. Director James Ricks has created an immersive experience that makes it impossible for the audience to distance themselves emotionally or intellectually. The Gottwald Playhouse becomes transformed, temporarily, an intimate cocoon that wraps around the performers and audience and only releases us when the lights come back up.
An Iliad includes a litany of wars, conflicts, and invasions, starting in ancient times and concluding – for now – with the current events in the Ukraine. Does An Iliad encourage the audience to understand the past by placing it into a modern context, or does it inspire us to understand the present by comparing it to the past? Like Achilles, are we, too, addicted to rage, or do we need to re-examine our definition of heroes? Returning the ghost light to center stage before exiting, The Poet asks, “You see?” But do we…
By Denis O’Hare & Lisa Peterson
Alec Beard as The Poet
Christopher Chorney as Muse
Direction & Design
Director: James Ricks
Composer: Niccolo Seligman
Dramaturg: Dean Simpson
Lighting Designer: Gretta Daughtrey
Scenic Designer: Missouri Flaxon
Production Manager: Oliver Samson
Box Office Manager: Margot Moser
Marketing Consultant: Emily Adler
Stage Manager: Corrie Barton
Assistant Stage Manager: Hope Jewell
Scenic Construction: Quinlan Boyle
Run Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: Dave Parrish Photography