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Theater Review: "An Iliad"

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www.newvillagearts.org

“Every time I sing this song, I hope it’s the last time.”

The speaker is The Poet, the topic of the “song” is war and man’s unending addiction to rage, and the source material is Homer’s “The Iliad.”

New Village Arts presents Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare’s “An Iliad,” an updated version that speaks not just of the war at hand – the Trojan War – but of modern inconveniences like long supermarket lines and road rage as perhaps contributing factors to the rage that ends in war.

And what are those causes? “Ohhh....the gods of course.....um...pride, honor, jealousy....Aphrodite....some game or other, an apple, Helen being more beautiful than somebody – it doesn’t matter.”

The part of The Poet is written for either a male or female actor.

A few years ago La Jolla Playhouse did the show with a male Poet. Here, consummate actor Linda Libby takes the stage in war gear reminiscent of the Vietnam era, and the surprising thing is that gender really doesn’t matter.

Exhaustion and hopelessness know no gender.

The showdown between Greek warrior Achilles and his challenger, the Trojan Hector is at the heart of the story, though this modern iteration also includes mention of soldiers from Carlsbad and Nebraska, among other places (The theater’s press rep AJ Knox has created a graphic novel version of “The Iliad” that introduces the characters and the major themes; it can be downloaded HERE).

War is said to be glorious, exciting, even noble.

But The Poet enters, colorless in shades of brown and dragging a suitcase that looks as tired as she does. She is clearly weary of telling this sad tale. 

The Poet gets some help from the only other character – a Muse. This is the wonderful stringed bass player Gunnar Bigg, who also wrote the music. In some places he musically echoes her, in others seems to be pushing her on to continue the story. It’s a most effective partnership.

Libby, one of our finest actors, is an engaging storyteller, and though on opening night she yelled a bit more than seemed necessary, she was stunning in those quieter moments when reflection was called for.

Director Jacole Kitchen wisely keeps out of the way of this thought-provoking piece that demands to be seen, thought about and discussed ... especially this question: How do you ask a person to be the last man to die for a losing cause?

“An Iliad” is a fine start to the 2017 season for New Village Arts.

The details

“An Iliad” plays through February 26, 2017 at New Village Arts, 2787 State St., Carlsbad.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (760) 433-3245 or www.newvillagearts.org