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An Iliad at the Public Theater

An Iliad harnesses a power greater than any amount of CGI, FX and other techno gimmicks: the human imagination



Even after two-and-a-half millennia, a Homeric voice can still stir an audience — especially as embodied by Teagle F. Bougere in Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of An Iliad. Notice the article: Yes, this 2012 play by Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare is based on The Iliad, that epic poem you didn't appreciate but fell asleep with in high school. This is not a rote recitation of Robert Fagles' 1990 translation, but a lively reimagining by a gifted poet/storyteller who interacts with his audience, provides context and conveys the weight of the tragedies of war.

Let's curb my enthusiasm by admitting that classical mythology in general and the Trojan War (without Brad Pitt) in particular is not everyone's cup of honeyed wine. But An Iliad harnesses a power greater than any amount of CGI, FX and other techno gimmicks: the human imagination. Bougere, in the role created by and for co-playwright O'Hare, wields some serious tools in storytelling: the original one-man show. Vivid, hyperbolic word pictures of the Greeks' military might, Troy's grandeur, the gods' interference. Credibly, he reifies the range of characters — infant, king, woman and, especially, warriors — in choice scenes and dialogues.

And just given the fact that the man is dashing about on stage for more than an hour-and-a-half with no intermission, no break in his role, certainly gives Bougere a lock on Stamina of the Year Award, if such existed.

Director Jesse Berger has put the spirit as well as the words of The Iliad front and center (and occasionally up on platforms). Marion Williams' almost colorless post-industrial (post-apocalyptic?) set and Godot-esque costume design underline the timelessness of the story. Seth Reiser's lighting design, and Ryan Rumery's music and sound design, provide punctuation so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable except for how everything works together so well.

Here indeed has the Public fulfilled the promise of its "Masterpiece Season." An Iliad is not just about a 3,000-year-old mythologized war, but the eternal seduction of the human race with Wrath, Strife, dreams of Glory and all those relevant, very non-ancient Homeric themes.

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