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an iliad

Homer's 'The Iliad' brought to life off-Broadway

By Jessica Turgeon

"Greeks win one day, Trojans win the next, like a game of tug-of-war, and nothing to show for it but exhaustion, poverty, and loneliness," says the storyteller, the lone Poet recounting the tale of the mythical Trojan War. Based on Homer's eighth century B.C. poem, "The Iliad," writers Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare have created a short, yet poignant one-man off-Broadway play.

In 2005, Peterson proposed the idea of recreating the epic Trojan War poem on stage. O'Hare accepted, thinking that the timing was right. In an interview with Playbill.com O'Hare said, "When Bush declared 'mission accomplished' and we were still in the midst of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it felt like a war poem was what this country needed."

The Poet, a portrayal of Homer himself, is played by O'Hare and actor Stephen Spinella in alternating performances. Created as a one-man show, the pressure of performing so many different roles is taxing. Not only is he the narrator, but also Achilles, Hector, Helen, Hermes, Athena, and unnamed characters. O'Hare was more than willing to share the role when Spinella came into the picture. The Poet "travels through time, wearily sharing his often-anguished memories of that war-mongering, vengeful time nearly three millennia ago," as described by The Daily News. This account of the Trojan War, complete with the legendary fight over Helen, the contributions of the gods, and the infamous Trojan Horse, specifically tells the tale of the Greek Achilles and Hector of Troy, "agonizing over the waste of their and countless other lives," according to BroadwayWorld.com.

Both actors portraying the Poet are supported by expressive lighting by Scott Zielinski, and dramatic, somber music by Brian Ellingsen. These accents enhance the powerful words being spoken. "The cry for a peaceful resolution of conflicts is a familiar, albeit important one," according to BroadwayWorld.com. "The play's strength lies more in the observation of the protagonist's emotional connection to the warriors whose tales he tells."

"Poking a bit of fun at the interference and fickleness of the gods throughout the siege of Troy," said Associated Press reporter Jennifer Farrar, "the Poet suggests that those gods never died, that they burrowed inside us and became our impulses. Your lust comes from Aphrodite, your good ideas from Athena, your feelings of mischief from Hermes."

What is the conclusion of this tale of destruction and violence that has taken place over the decades?

Not much has changed.

While blurring together stories of past wars and battles, O'Hare and Peterson emphasize that war is still at hand throughout the world; the play culminates in a list of conflicts with a recount of current wars, including those in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, and most recently, Syria.

Both actors give intense performances that resonate with the audiences, offering both humor and grief throughout, focusing on the "wastefulness of war."

"Homer wrote an epic myth," said Farrar, "but Peterson and O'Hara skillfully relate his ideas and themes to all actual military conflict through recorded time showing us that we're part of a never-ending cycle of violence."

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