Review: An Iliad

From The Iliad To An Iliad

By Byron Toben

The blind poet Homer wrote The Iliad around 750 BCE recounting the seminal siege of Troy some 400 years earlier by Greek forces.

While the epic events related in this long poem have been translated and analyzed in print myriad times over the ages, there have been relatively few theatrical depictions, until recently.

In June 2014, The National Arts Centre in Ottawa put on a 12-hour version involving 18 storytellers, while the National Theatre of Wales pared it down to a mere 8 hours with only 6 speaking actors.

In the meantime, in 2010, Americans Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare developed a gripping one man version called An Iliad which, at under 2 hours, gradually picked up steam to great acclaim as it drew audiences across the USA.

an iliad play posterMontrealers should be grateful to Chocolate Moose Theatre Company’s Martin Law for bringing this unique gem to the Mainline Theatre, albeit for an all too short run of only 5 performances.

Now down to only 90 minutes and enhanced by Stephane Garneau-Monten’s original music, a world weary Poet story teller traverses the ancient world reciting Homer’s epic tale of how a 10-year battle was further dragged on by the whims and jealousies of the Gods.

Its anti-war undertone is highlighted by the Poet’s chanting off the list of all wars, great and small, since that frozen moment in time. It reinforces William James’s 1910 observation that “History is a bath of Blood”.

While I plead guilty to only having read half way through my ragged paperback copy of The Iliad, I did see the critically dismissed 2004 film “Troy” at the Dollar cinema, which claimed to be only loosely based on Homer. I enjoyed it and it made millions of dollars, whether due to the story or Brad Pitt as Achilles, I know not.

Anyway, as in the film, The Poet incarnates not only the super-warrior Achilles and his rival Hector, but also King Priam, the non-combative Paris and even Helen, whose face launched a thousand ships and afforded Agamemnon a chance to create a Greek military-industrial complex for expansion on the excuse of Menelaus’s “stolen” bride.

Mr. Law is on a bit of a roll recently, culminating as King Charles in Compleat Female Stage Beauty.

An Iliad concluded at the Mainline Theatre on November 15.

Images: courtesy of Chocolate Moose Theatre Company.

Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.

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