Curtain Call: ‘An Iliad’ shares electrifying anti-war story

Long Wharf, New Haven: First there was “The Iliad,” the ancient Greek epic poem about the Trojan and Greek War by Homer. Now there’s “An Iliad” adapted from Homer by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, which has been translated by Robert Fagles. This version is nothing short of electrifying. The playwrights have penned one of the most riveting anti-war stories told by Rachel Christopher, an actress storyteller of the first degree. She calls it a song that she hopes she will never have to sing again, but as she reveals in the most mesmerizing way, humans are still warring. When it will stop?

Those involved with bringing this masterly work together ought to win every award available to them. That Peterson and O’Hare were able to connect this ancient war to all the wars humankind has experienced is nothing short of brilliant. Certainly, Christopher as the Poet telling the story manages to bring to life the gods and goddesses, the heroes and tragic figures involved with this most ancient of wars. She creates Agamemnon, Achilles, and Hector as well as Helen and so many others by dramatizing their inner thoughts and emotions as well as their strong public stance. Christopher’s theater presentation so dramatically directed by Whitney White teeters between performance art and theater. In the airport, she dashes to one of her suitcases and pulls out a white toga type garment that Helen could have wore — she so beautiful of face that she launched a thousand ships — and quickly puts it on. Then the actress insists that she show the audience what it was like looking at all those ships and all those warriors. She will reach in to another suitcase and pull out Achilles’ magnificent coat of armor, his fabulous festooned helmet and don those as she steps into those lives. Christopher is engagement personified. She shows us how Hector’s infant will be 10 by the time he returns from the battles; points out the warriors’ parents may be dead when they return, perhaps even their wives will be dead. Then she adds that perhaps the men will return to find they have more children than they did when they left.

Often, the thoughts and words of today’s audience are seamlessly woven into the telling of this story. This show is new and ancient simultaneously. Christopher makes us listen to Hector’s thought process, his fears, his loneliness and then does the same for Achilles.

Daniel Soule’s set design is a three-pronged event. First the airport boarding area, then a stoned locale where the ferocious fighting takes place, and still a music studio, where actor Zdenko Martin plays The Muse to the Poet and provides deep dark thunderous sound or glorifying and uplifting sound depending on the moment. Martin and Christopher work so well together on this storytelling venture it is difficult to imagine anyone else playing these roles.

Add to this that Kate MeGee’s lighting design throws the audience directly into the battles with a blood red stage, while Lee Kinney’s sound design has us sitting by a serene waterfall softly flowing down steep rocky terrain. Andy Jean’s costume design accommodates Christopher as she transcends into long ago heroes.

The show is 90 minutes with no intermission. However, this is one of those productions that you will never forget. Kudos to the cast and crew for this wonderful adventure.

“An Illiad” runs through April 14 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: jgrochman@gmail.com.