By Beki Pineda
AN ILIAD. Written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare; directed by Stephen Weitz. Produced by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company at the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St. through Feb. 26. Tickets for the remainder of the season available at www.thedairy.org.
The distinction is made very clear that this is an Iliad, not the Iliad, Homer’s epic poem that so many of us read in school. This is an important difference, because the tale is told by The Poet, an older grizzled wanderer who comes onto the stage looking for a quiet place to rest. He turns to see the audience and realizes they are there to hear—once again—his story of the battles of the Trojan War. Tired of telling the same story, he nevertheless embarks on the tale in the hope that this time, it will make an impact and change something for the future. If ever there was an anti-war statement made through theater, this is it.
He talks of the battles—the Trojans “winning” one day; the Greeks the next—with nothing ever accomplished except more men dead, more men wanting to go home. He talks of the rage that overtakes men in war, of how it changes them from the farmers and carpenters they were into ferocious animals with only death on their minds. He speaks of the generals and characters on both sides with an easy familiarity. Paris is a lazy coward; Agamemnon is trying to uphold his honor; Achilles fought to avenge Hector, his friend who took his place in the battles one day. He talks of wars through the generations, from the Trojan War to Aleppo, and how in the course of human history from that time, only a few isolated single years—fifty in number—have enjoyed peace. What have we learned in all that time about the usefulness of armed conflict? Draw your own conclusions.
There could not have been a better actor chosen for this display than Chris Kendall. He has the stature, the age, the gravitas to pull off the role of experienced storyteller/poet. He speaks with convincing familiarity of the various players in this particular conflict. While struggling to remember the names of the soldiers, The Poet instead remembers what they did and why. He moves the theater of war into contemporary times, talking of pulling forgotten soldiers for current conflicts from Boston, from Minneapolis, from Colorado Springs. His genuine fatigue and disillusionment lend a poignancy to his mission; he too is an old soldier who just wants to go home. This is a tour-de-force performance that holds you by the heart until he lets you go.
A one-man show is never just the work of one man. The technical side of the performance is flawless. The set (designed by Ron Mueller) looks like an old schoolyard or abandoned parking lot with chain-link fences and garbage strewn around. Just the sort of place someone homeless would seek as a quiet sleeping place. As the story progresses, the lighting (designed by Richard Spomer) enhances the performance beautifully and differentiates between the battle scenes, the visits by the Muses, and The Poet’s thoughtful remembrances. The tiles that pattern the floor of the yard have small slits between them that very effectively shine red during the rages of the battle scenes. He is dressed (by Brenda King) in tattered garments that look as though they have served him well for years through all kinds of weather. Daniel Horney’s sound design keeps us in the moment and infuses the story with strength.
The combination of Chris Kendall, actor, and Stephen Weitz, director, has created a powerful, touching, exhausting theater evening. They have a symbiotic relationship that brings out the best in both of them. This is one not to be missed.
WOW factor: 9.5