Play Review: An Iliad

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 11, 2011

For those of you in the Chicagoland area, get thee to the Court Theatre, to see An Iliad before its run comes to an end on December 14. I saw the show this evening, and it was marvelous; Timothy Edward Kane’s performance as the poet reciting Homer’s epic story, and his work in helping us see what it is supposed to mean in our lives was nothing short of mesmerizing. The sheer amount of verbiage he had to memorize as the sole character in the play was extraordinary, and that mental feat alone warranted his standing ovation at the end of the play. But he supplemented his complete and total command of the script with a display of frenetic energy, a use of irony in all of the right places, and with a wondrous ability to convey all of the majesty, rage, pity, sorrow, and awfulness of Homer’s story. I never sensed that Kane was merely going through the motions in telling Homer’s tale; he really seemed to feel and evince all of the emotions Homer meant for him–and for all others who came into contact with his epic–to feel and evince.

It helped, of course, that I have recently read both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and that both translations were by Robert Fagles, upon whose translations the play was based. Recent readers of Fagles’s translations will recognize the use of his words throughout the play. But while it is helpful to have read Fagles’s translations before going to the play, it is by no means a prerequisite, so don’t keep yourself from seeing the play just because you haven’t read Fagles’s treatment of Homer. One of the most marvelous things about the performance is its ability to show the audience why Homer’s epic poem was meant to be recited, rather than read. Of course, I think that it ought to be read, and again, I am glad I read it before going to this performance. But I am also glad for the performance’s reminder that the Iliad is a song, and it is supposed to be sung to listeners. It was sung quite well to me, and I would recommend the hearing of the song to just about anyone.

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