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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
AN ILIAD
at New York Theatre Workshop

TO TIRE OF WAR
By MATT WINDMAN

  Stephen Spinella/ Ph: Joan Marcus

It’s extremely unusual – if not totally unheard of – for a new Off-Broadway show to have two consecutive opening nights. But that proved to be necessary for An Iliad, a mesmerizing one-man riff on Homer’s 15,000-line epic poem The Iliad being performed by two different well-known stage actors at alternating performances.

The 100-minute monologue, co-written by Lisa Peterson and actor Denis O’Hare, was originally going to be performed by O’Hare last year at New Jersey’s McCarter Theatre. But when a conflict arose for O’Hare, Stephen Spinella took his place. For the Off-Broadway premiere at New York Theatre Workshop in the East Village, both actors got involved.

Spinella is best known for playing Prior Walter in the original Angels in America, winning two consecutive Tony Awards for each part of the play. O’Hare, who received a Tony for Take Me Out, is now probably better known for his role on the television series True Blood.

Based loosely on Robert Fagles’ celebrated translation of Homer, An Iliad revolves around an unknown, traveling storyteller who, on an empty stage, speaks directly to the audience and recalls parts of the Trojan War, bringing the narrative back to its roots as a product of oral storytelling. Every now and then, a few phrases are uttered in Greek.

The Poet, as he is called in the program, urges us to think of the Greek men on the ships sailing toward Troy as if they were teenagers from different parts of the United States and to wonder what it’s like to be away from home for nine years.  Why did they stay so long? He compares it to waiting on the same line endlessly at the grocery store – if you get up and leave, it’s like having to confess that you’ve wasted your time.

After dramatizing selections of the bloody, chaotic exploits of Hector, Achilles and Agamemnon, he rattles off a long list of all the world wars that have taken place since, emphasizing the authors’ belief that war is a never-ending, wasteful exercise. By the time he reaches the Trojan Horse, he simply doesn’t feel like going any further.

Backed by Mark Bennett’s absorbing sound design, which incorporates a live bassist, and Scott Zielinki’s shadowy lighting, An Iliad makes for a gripping theatrical experience regardless of whether you see it with O’Hare or Spinella, but there are key differences in their performances. 

The bearded Spinella brings more theatricality and pounding intensity to the monologue, so much so that the monologue feels like a thoroughly captivating ride. O’Hare, on the other hand, is more effective in presenting The Poet as a sad, hopeless individual. He also treats the text in a more spontaneous and conversational manner.

In any case, both powerfully convey the speaker’s sadness at having to relay the same story to continuing generations due to its eternal timeliness. 

 


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