Los Angeles Theater Review: AN ILIAD (Broad Stage in Santa Monica)

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by Jason Rohrer on January 16, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


A poet out of time, an ancient soul yet our contemporary, has come to sing to us of quarrel.  He comes shabby from the road, dusty and reluctant.  It is a killing effort for this gifted creature to tell us all we know of the love that causes rage.  His story is the siege of Troy, an old tapestry whose weft has callused his fingers; through holes his hands have worn in this fabric, the poet gives us to see other wars, other times; "An Iliad," with Denis O' Hare at the Broad Stage in Santa Monicaour time.  Achilles and Hector, Paris, Helen, the thousand ships and the crazy gods are reflecting pools in the halls of our own contemplation.

The poet cannot tell us all he knows.  The agony of his song encompasses a scope of idea and emotion frankly awesome.  To tell even as much as he does, he must invoke muses, spirits, the old dead gods.  They appear.  The experience wrenches him bodily.  For his own sake, at length he breaks his story short.  But it is for us too; in his mercy, he would not inflict more on us.  He knows what we would know if we dropped our toys, our necessary distractions, and saw revealed and naked our capacity for cowardice, our hunger for the throats of our fellows, our secret desire to sacrifice the good we have amassed.

He knows that if he told us more we would despair.  He tells us much, though, with an enormous and terrible fairy tale.  It is a sermon dreamed for our benefit.  We learn and laugh and cower.  We resolve to be stronger.  We come not close but closer to knowing that which, fully revealed, would burn us down.  Closer is good if we want to walk in acknowledgment of the truth.  But this is as close as I wish to come.

This timeless angel poet, this absolute good, inhabits actor and writer Denis O’Hare.  His An Iliad is heady material, founded in Homer and written with absolutely no fear of failure (by O’Hare and director Lisa Peterson).  A performer who could not credibly embody the collected virtues of human creative potential would expose this divine interlude as a mere play, or worse, a one-man show.  Whoever acts this piece "An Iliad," with Denis O' Hare at the Broad Stage in Santa Monicamust be facile of mind to an apparently superhuman degree, and he must be intensely human and sympathetic.  He must command all – all – of our attention for 100 minutes that feels like all of history condensed, neither short nor long but eternal.  His authority must be immediate and in no doubt.

A good actor could easily make the weight of this script seem gaudy and pretentious, even facetious.  This role would make most good actors seem incapable.  “Well, who could pull off such a role,” you would think.  It is true that O’Hare has excellent help from composers and designers of rare talent and unity.  His director and co-writer enhances all he does.  But this actor could perform this piece naked in a cellar by candlelight and just as easily convince me of his possession by the wisdom of five thousand years.  His advice is as vital to our human story as any I have ever heard from a stage.

photos by Joan Marcus

An Iliad
A Homer’s Coat Project
The Broad Stage in Santa Monica
scheduled to end on February 2, 2014
for tickets, call 310.434.3200 or visit www.thebroadstage.com

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