Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Zander's review of Twelfth Night
For the first portion of the show, The Poet, toting her travel luggage, steps in front of a long, silver curtain and begins to tell the story of the Trojan War. She is contemporary and speaks that language. Rachel Christopher's presence is striking as she launches into recounting what might have occurred centuries ago. The Muse, looking scruffy when he does appear, is a musician (playing live electric guitar, keyboard, and, at the end, acoustic guitar). Christopher, for most of her 90 continual minutes on stage, is in monologue, taking on a number of roles, while Martin has one key speaking part.
Written in 8th Century BCE, the poem called "The Iliad" is epic and can seem endless. This writer's purpose is not to repeat a great deal of it. Suffice to say that Christopher grabs her audience immediately and she never relinquishes that hold. When the rectangular curtain parts to reveal a version and vision of Troy, as designed by Daniel Soule, the experience elevates to another level. This Troy is craggy, like a cavern or cave, and one senses water is nearby if not inherent.
Music for the always powerful and sometimes piercing An Iliad is provided by White and Martin, while Lee Kinney lends inviting sound design. Sometimes the music dominates but, more often, it serves as a background for The Poet's words. It appears that Martin actually plays the instruments, but there is ambient sound, too. Andy Jean's costuming grows in importance when The Poet embodies various characters.
As the presentation evolves, so does The Poet's intrinsic involvement with her story. It becomes nearly impossible to distinguish between the actor, her narrative and characters. She enviably fuses her persona with that of the text. Rachel Christopher's Poet is always passionate and, detailing history, also a person of today's America.
No sequence is more moving than the one that recalls the circumstances when Patroclus, best friend to Achilles, is slain by Hector. At the time, Patroclus is wearing Achilles' armor. Achilles will avenge this by killing Hector. What follows are moments surrounding the burial of Hector's corpse. The Poet is sorrowful and grief-stricken as she unveils the plot.
Ultimately, while wailing with distress, The Poet, on a crescendo, names wars of old ranging through those of the twentieth and the current century. She cries with the horror of the loss of human life through the multitude of battles. Why, forever, do people kill one another; to what end? The Poet's anguish is real and Rachel Christopher's exceptional acting turn brings the potency of suffering front and center. It is inescapable.
By the time The Muse and The Poet combine voices on a song without electronic enhancement as he plays unplugged guitar, the catharsis is complete. Thus, a two character Iliada take, an interpretation, a riff (call it whatever you wish)fully drains the actors on stage and, surely, many a theatergoer. Theater of ancient Greece breathes anew through this astonishing, demanding evening as history takes on new life.
An Iliad, through April 14, 2019, Long Wharf Theatre, Stage II, 222 Sargent Dr., New Haven CT. For tickets, call 203-787-4282 or visit longwharf.org.