Tuesday, June 25, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 16

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on October 10th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 32 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 32

Iliad-ict: PCPA delivers a haunting rendition of Homer's epic poem

By Rebecca Rose

If the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the Iliad by Homer is the 2004 movie Troy starring Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom–well, for crying out loud, read a book or something because I don't think I can help you. But a new performance at the Pacific Conservatory Theatre (PCPA) just might.

Cellist Eva Scholz-Carlson (right) plays Homer’s muse, accompanying Tarah Flanagan (left) throughout her performance of An Iliad.

An Iliad, currently running in rotating repertoire with Minita Gandhi's Muthaland in the Severson Theatre, is a one-woman show featuring actress Tarah Flanagan and written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare. It's hard to accurately explain An Iliad aside from the obvious. It is a re-imagining of Homer's epic poem, through the voice of one actress, as she attempts to portray the unending brutalities of war juxtaposed with brief shining moments of human kindness. She takes on numerous roles including Achilles, Hector, Paris, Helen, and Homer himself. It's an ambitious undertaking.

The play begins with Flanagan in the role of the poet who is frequently called upon to tell his famous tale. But this Homer is erratic, unstable, and deeply haunted by his story. The poet is no longer a detached narrator, singing the praises of legendary heroes and gods. This version of Homer is tormented, having spent years watching these battles from the front lines. There is a strong sense that he is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, forced to relive the atrocities of war he witnessed over and over, until hitting a breaking point.

Flanagan deftly switches between the more formal retelling of each hero's story into moments of hyper-intensive analysis, as her Homer addresses the audience, in an attempt to make something thousands of years old feel contemporary and, more importantly, relatable. Waiting on the outskirts of the Trojan walls for nine years is likened to the stubbornness of standing in a slow-moving line at the grocery story and, in one particularly strong moment, the thousands and thousands of men in Agamemnon's army aren't faceless Greeks. They are boys from Kansas, San Diego, Ohio, Chicago, New York, young adults barely beginning their lives who were cut down. 

The play attempts to connect the Trojan War to humanity's long history of wars (an interesting choice, considering it is now considered to be a largely non-historical war). Some of this felt a bit heavy-handed at times; the connection is obvious and might remain stronger without the forced jagged line the authors use to rope in present-day context.

Trojan woman
An Iliad runs through Oct. 20 at the Severson Theatre at the Pacific Conservatory Theatre (PCPA). The play is currently in rotating repertoire with Muthaland. The theater is located at Allan Hancock College, 800 S. College Drive, Santa Maria. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit pcpa.org or call (805) 922-8313.

The play is long, and some parts feel particularly indulgent and unnecessary, dampening the power of some of the play's best moments. One of the strongest parts, both in the writing and in Flanagan's astoundingly energetic performance, is the gut-wrenching instant when Hector's wife Andromache learns of his death. It was incredibly raw and powerful, one of the best examples of the play connecting to the audience and to the brutal realities of human cruelty. 

The play breaks some of the rules of formal theater (the house lights were kept on during the preview performance I attended) and Flanagan often steps into the rows of the theater. The point is to strip away much of the detachment of the experience of a passive viewer and force audience members to become part of this war story. From our contemporary eyes, the Iliad is a dusty piece of classic literature, meant more as an exercise in understanding formal poetry than an attempt to talk about mankind's underlying savagery. Peterson and O'Hare do a great job de-formalizing Homer and allowing the emotions behind his ancient words to take center stage. 

I willingly admit I was skeptical of An Iliad's premise. I was afraid the performance would go too far into the deep end of experimental theater or require a Ph.D. in classical literature to follow along. But I was extremely impressed with what Peterson and O'Hare created and especially impressed with Flanagan's interpretation of it. While it may take a moment or two to fully arrive at the powerhouse center of An Iliad, it is entirely worth the wait. 

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose is all about the Greek life. Contact her at rrose@santamariasun.com.

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