PlayMakers Repertory Company mainstay and audience favorite — and, arguably, the Triangle’s finest actor — Ray Dooley will star as the storyteller in An Iliad, a 2012 OBIE Award-winning one-man one-act play by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, adapted from Robert Fagles’ 1990 translation of Homer’s Iliad, on Sept. 5-9 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art. This presentation is part of the UNC professional-theater-in-residence’s thought-provoking PRC2 second-stage series, in which an audience talkback with the play’s cast and creative team and local experts on issues raised in the play occurs following each performance.
“This is the story of the Trojan War [circa 1260-1240 B.C.], and of two great fighters, Achilles and Hector,” first-time PlayMakers guest director Jesse Berger points out. “It is also the story of a great poet come to sing to us.”
In development since 2005, An Iliad was performed in Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Princeton, NJ; and Chicago, IL before its Big Apple debut — Off Broadway — on March 6, 2012 at the New York Theatre Workshop, under the direction of playwright Lisa Peterson. Fellow dramatist Denis O’Hare and actor Stephen Spinella alternated in the role of The Poet, who holds the audience spellbound with his epic tale of love and war in ancient Greece and Troy.
An Iliad won the 2012 OBIE Award Special Citation (for sound designer Mark Bennett, playwright/actor Denis O’Hare, dramatist/director Lisa Peterson, and actor Stephen Spinella), plus the 2012 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Solo Show and the 2012 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Solo Performance (Denis O’Hare).
According to the PlayMakers news release, “The playwrights were honored [with the 2012 OBIE Award Special Citation] for bringing a modern sensibility to Homer’s epic tale of mighty warriors, gods and goddesses, and the face that launched a thousand ships, without losing the grit, glory, bloodlust and poetry that have held audiences enthralled through the ages. ”
The New York Times critic Charles Isherwood wrote, “Drawing on the muscular translation by Robert Fagles, Mr. O’Hare and Ms. Peterson have telescoped the mighty expanses of Homer’s great poem into an evening that scales the conflict of the Trojan War down to an intimate solo show illuminating both the heroism and the horror of warfare.”
Chicago Sun-Times theater reviewer Hedy Weiss had previously praised the play’s “explosive, altogether breathtaking sequences” and claimed that “[The script] brilliantly meshes past and present calamity, with touches of the most caustic dark humor suddenly shifting into unimaginable pathos. [The playwrights’] vision allows us to see the faces of 18-year-old soldiers plucked from the villages of Greece and the beautiful city of Troy morph into those of the similarly young men from Nebraska and New York who have ended up on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq during the past decade.”
PlayMakers guest director Jesse Berger says, “I heard about [An Iliad] when it was in development and was intrigued — both by the material and the phenomenal artists working on it. [Then] I saw the Off-Broadway production at New York Theatre Workshop and was bowled over by it.”
Berger especially loves “… the way the play expresses the unique and timeless power of a single actor sharing a great classic story with imaginative audiences.”
The founding artistic director of New York’s Red Bull Theater adds, “I wanted to direct it for several reasons — I have been eager to work with [PlayMakers Repertory Company producing artistic director] Joe [Haj] and the company at PlayMakers, having heard great things about their work.
“The play appeals to me on many levels, but chiefly it deals with the ultimate classic of dramatic literature,” says Berger. “I love the classics, plays of heightened language and epic themes — and I especially love doing them in intimate settings.”
In addition to director Jesse Berger and PRC producing artistic director Joseph Haj, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for An Iliad includes production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic/costume designer Marion Williams, lighting designer Seth Reiser, composer and sound designer Ryan Rumery, vocal coach John Patrick, movement coach Craig Turner, and stage manager Charles K. Bayang.
Director Jesse Berger says, the set is “an empty space” and The Poet will be attired as “a timeless troubadour.” Berger reveals, “We’ve taken some inspiration from Tom Waits, Lyle Lovett, Bob Dylan, [and] Woody Guthrie, but that’s not to say he’ll look like any one of those guys.”
He adds, “We have not designed the lighting yet, but it will be (I hope) simple, subtle, evocative, unnoticeable…. Similarly, with our sound design, the intent is to support the actor and the audience’s experience of the story without drawing any special attention to design elements.”
Jesse Berger claims, “The major challenge [of staging An Iliad] is doing ‘just enough’ to evoke the audience’s imagination and no more. The play takes place in an empty space and really needs nothing more than a great actor (Ray Dooley) and an audience willing to listen and share in the imaginative experience with him. So, our challenge has been seeking the right balance of evocative simplicity to bring the play to theatrical life without adding any obstructions between the actor, the text, and the audience.”
In addition to An Iliad (Sept. 5-9), the 2012-13 PRC2 series will include the 2000-01 OBIE Award Special Citation winner And God Created Great Whales (Jan. 9-13, 2013), composed and performed by Rinde Eckert, and the world premiere of Spring Training (April 24-28, 2013) by the musical/spoken-word ensemble Universes. PlayMakers Rep’s 2012-13 main-stage season begins on Sept. 19th, with Red, John Logan’s play about the abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko, which won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play and five other Tonys.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 1st Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/19994416/article-PlayMakers’-PRC2-season-opens-with-‘An-Iliad’ (Note: You may have to register to read this article).
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents AN ILIAD at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 5-8 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15-$40 ($10 UNC students and $12 other students).
BOX OFFICE: 919/962-PLAY or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkOpPOLkO7k (interview with the playwrights, conducted by the the McCarter Theatre Center of Princeton, NJ).
NOTE 1: There will be FREE post-performance discussions with representatives of the show’s creative team, including designers, production staff, and/or actors, plus local experts on issues raised in the play.
NOTE 2: The 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept 7th, performance of An Iliad will be “open captioned.” For details, click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption.
The Play: http://www.denisohare.com/author/productions/an-iliad (official website) and http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=show&title=An Iliad (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
Lisa Peterson: http://americantheatrewing.org/biography/detail/lisa_peterson (American Theatre Wing).
Jesse Berger: http://www.redbulltheater.com/Jesse (Red Bull Theater).
The Iliad: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iliad (Wikipedia).
Homer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homer (Wikipedia).
Trojan War: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trojan_War (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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