Henry Woronicz breathes new life into an ancient classic—“An Iliad,” at Berkeley Rep through November 18, 2012
The Trojan War has never been more vital than in the capable hands of Obie-winning theatre director Lisa Peterson and Tony Award winning actor Denis O’Hare whose stage adaption of Homer’s Iliad is now being performed as a one man show by Henry Woronicz, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. If ever there were a time to cross the Richmond Bridge for culture, this is it. An Iliad, which runs through November 18, 2012, is an experience in storytelling that instills a sense of wonder in the spoken word and in the harrowing gore and visceral glory of the Trojan War. The 9th year of the 10-year-long Trojan War is the focus and Woronicz tells the story of its two great opposing warriors—Hector, leading the Trojans, and Achilles, leading the invading Greek army.
If you read portions of Homer’s epic, back in high school or college, and found them less than enthralling; put that experience aside. This story is told as it was meant to be told—by a masterful storyteller, Henry Woronicz, former head of the Oregon Shakespeare Theatre, who makes it a living, breathing tour de force. He uses contemporary colloquial and classical language to deliver a story that is timeless but oozes new pain each time it is told.
In adapting Homer’s epic, Peterson and O’Hare drew on Princeton comparative literature professor Robert Fagle’s acclaimed translation. Fagles received many awards for his translations of Greek classics and was unrivaled in creating a sense of rhythm and images that carry the story forward. Peterson and O’Hare zeroed in a starting point, decided what got told, what got hinted at, and what was untold. Working with this foundation, Woronicz brings the very nature of the characters to life, exposing their motivations, irrational impulses, and frailty.
There’s little embellishment in this pared down production. Woronicz enters a near empty stage wearing a ratty trench coat and carrying a bottle of booze. Were he not on stage, he might be dismissed as homeless, invisible. When he opens his mouth, spouting this epic tale, he’s a curious mix of tortured madness and brilliance, reminding us of the fine line between the two. (Making us aware of our discomfort with modern society’s seemingly unsolvable problems while providing powerful entertainment is Berkeley Rep’s forte.)
Woronicz brings certain peripheral characters into the spotlight— Andromache, Hector’s wife, and King Priam, Hector’s grief-stricken father—and compassionately relates their stories balancing the mythic with the everyday grieving of mortals. He also embellishes—there’s an explosive listing of civilization’s conflicts from antiquity to Afghanistan and the Syria of today, reminding us of war’s timeless nature.
The experience is enlivened further by New York composer Mark Bennett’s emotion-stirring score, played and plunked by bassist Brian Ellingsen from the balcony.
The sheer intensity of this 100 minute oration left me with plenty of raw energy to unload after the performance. This is one that is best seen with a wise friend—what better way to end an evening than by deconstructing Homer.
An Iliad, by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, adapted from Homer’s Iliad, translated by Robert Fagles
Starring Henry Woronicz (The Poet) with bassist Brian Ellingsen
Directed by Lisa Peterson, Designed by Rachel Hauck (scenic design), Marina Draghici (costume design), Scott Zielinski (lighting design), and Mark Bennett (original music/sound design)
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission)
Details: An Iliad ends November 18, 2012. Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, located at 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley (near the intersection of Addison and Shattuck Avenue), Berkeley, CA 94704. Performances: Tuesday-Sunday, with matinee performances on weekends. Tickets: Tickets: $14.50-$77 call box office at 510-647-2949 or purchase online at www.berkeleyrep.org
Parking: paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre. The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $3 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM or all day on Saturday or Sunday when your garage-issued parking ticket is validated in the theatre lobby.