ALBANY – “An Iliad,” which is at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany through April 2, is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. It’s drama that is intellectually stimulating, moving and powerful, and frequently painful to experience. In other words it’s theater that will touch your emotions, your heart and jar your comfort level.
“An Iliad” is based on the nearly three-thousand year old poem written by Homer in about 800 B.C. It proves the more things change, the more they stay the same, because “An Iliad” is about the human consequences of war and the irrational reasons men justify their need to do battle.
It’s a telling of the Greek-Trojan War which was started when Paris kidnapped Helen of Troy. The work shows Paris as a coward and Helen a slut. Yet thousands lost their lives, their homeland and their entire civilization trying to save the honor of people who had no honor.
It becomes clear very quickly that this contemporized adaption is not a tale about a specific war or the legendary battle between the mythical figures Hector and Achilles. Instead this 100-minute intermission-less play makes vividly clear war has always been an entrenched part of the human psyche. Making it more haunting is the suggestion that too frequently wars are inspired by gods who are as flawed as are the humans who do battle.
Being essentially faithful to an ancient Greek poem is as dangerous as it is ambitious. What keeps the play from being a history lesson or a polemic is how the language is modern and many references are current. This is a play that uses the past to examine the present.
But mostly the play finds balance because the production draws the audience into understanding the thrill of battle. Though you are repelled emotionally and intellectually by the violence of war, the story-telling is so gripping you are swept up by the excitement of battle and the heroism of the participants. You see Hector as a brutal warrior but a good brave man, so you mourn his death. In the same way you recoil from the vanity of Achilles, yet laud his courage and the honor he shows to his fallen enemy.
”An Iliad” places you in a disturbing quandary in which you loathe war but begrudgingly admire the warriors.
It’s powerful theater that is made more impressive by the story being told by one actor. At Capital Rep The Poet is played by David Barlow who is nothing less than brilliant. He offers a muscular performance that is amazingly sensitive as well. He’s vigorous as the combatants, snarky as the gods and sensitive when he becomes the conscience of the play. You might see 10 actors play the part and get 10 wildly different interpretations of this daunting role. You might be fortunate to see one as good as the one Barlow offers, but it is doubtful you’ll see it performed better or more memorably.
It’s misleading to call this a one man show. Sharing the stage is cellist Kathleen Bowman who plays her original composition that underscores the words of The Poet, while giving the text an emotional resonance. The creation of The Muse is a brilliant conceit that adds a beautiful and ephemeral quality to the production. Bowman’s presence is vital to the success of the evening.
The production has a set by Bill Clarke that is bleak, timeless and perfect for the material. It's marvelously lit by Rachel Budin in a way that merges myth and reality.
“An Iliad” is one of the more emotionally complete productions that’s been offered at Capital Rep in a while. It’s a tribute to the work of director Margaret E. Hall who guides the performers and sets the proper tone, mood and pace to forge a memorable theatrical experience.
This is one of the rare local productions that I plan to see a second time before it closes on April 2. If you share my belief that theater should be truthful, honest and make you feel - even to the point that it hurts – I hope you see “An Iliad” at least once.
For tickets and schedule information: 518-445-SHOW or capitalrep.org
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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