You’d think that one person standing alone on a dark bare stage could not possibly bring alive the massive story, the tragic agony and pain of The Trojan War. Behold. It can be done. Playwrights Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare have found a way to vivify Homer’s enduring masterpiece leaving it to just one person to make it unfold again: The Poet. Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre director Cathy Kurz and actor Daniel Dorner superbly call that forth, personified as a timeless reminder that men keep on killing each other in war, after war, after war, after war. Yes. Men.
This experience is called An Iliad because it is no longer only Homer’s. Peterson and O’Hare have re-worked Robert Fagle’s translation turning the words, phrases, descriptions and dialogue into something new. Contemporary. Just like war.
They do not attempt to encompass every moment or every event of the original 24 books and its over 18,ooo verses. Principally they have distilled the drama to just a few crucial parts involving a few prime characters. The hubristic Greeks: Achilles, Patroclus, Agamemnon. The noble Trojans: Hector, his wife Andromache and his father Priam. The frivolous Gods: Zeus, Apollo, Athena. Three triads. You are thrust into the horror, the brutality, the pity and terror. Meanwhile, the writers remind us that everyday, ordinary, unheroic life goes on beyond the killing fields and outside the hills of Troy.
Like the poetic precursor, there is a tempo, a rhythm, a pulse coursing through all of this. You feel the throb even if you don’t think about it. With simple means, one performer, lightly personifying the characters, recreates a tale which penetrates time. Kurz and Dorner bring that off impressively, never emphasizing a bravura performance. This not about an actor. It stays elemental.
The Poet does not stand or sit with tranquility. He lives it. Dorner makes it so, seething, soaring with energy, vitality and sorrow. Meanwhile double-bassist Max Stehr underscores dynamically, playing music and effects created by Mark Bennett for the original off-Broadway production of 2012. Watch too how Kurz makes the shadow of almost-immortal killing- machine Achilles loom larger than life.
Moreover, her exceptional program book comes full of fascinating and informative reading from playwright O’Hare plus background material from Princeton’s McCarter Theatre about Homer and live storytelling across the centuries. Larger local theatre companies could learn from this model and further win over audiences.
Thinking outside the frame of this experience, bear in mind that, underpinning the ancient battles, the Greek cause was a shabby pretense. So what if Helen was kidnapped or colluded in her own departure? The peaceful, happy Trojans had no cause to take arms. Tragedy on a major scale. Consider, too, the phantom WMDs of Baghdad. Or ponder shadowy shelling in The Gulf of Tonkin. More hubris. Each time causing thousands upon thousands of young warriors to be slain. More tragedy.
Bear in mind as well, that, without CGIs and a cast of thousands, the object is not entertainment. Although the Gods randomly take sides as if for their own amusement, the gory, graphic killings are not portrayed to thrill and excite. They terrify. Reminding us that we have never buried the paths to war.
An Iliad continues through Nov. 30 at Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre, 1002 Dodge Street. Fri- Sat: 7:30 p.m. Sun: 2 p.m. Tickets $20-$25. www.bsbtheatre.com