The action in the Brigit Saint Brigit production of An Iliad takes place at the gates of Troy, but it could just as easily have been Baghdad, Beirut, Belfast, or Biafra. When it comes to war, one needn’t stray beyond the second letter of the alphabet to be reminded that the story of man is written in his own blood.
Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare conceived the play at the dawn of America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. The vehicle they chose to represent endless war comes in the form of a cypher, one that has haunted every foxhole, every trench, and every rampart since time immemorial. Known simply as The Poet, he is doomed by the gods to narrate tales of conflict until such time as the plague of war is eradicated from the globe.
Which means that the world-weary Poet never runs out of material. His catalog of battles is expansive, eternal…but what better tale to tell than that of Homer’s The Iliad?
Daniel Dorner gives a powerhouse performance as the scruffy raconteur who enters lugging a heavy suitcase, the contents of which remain as mysterious as the famous briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Perhaps he is schlepping the collective weight of a planet’s sorrows?
The Poet spins a lyrical saga while, on occasion, lapsing into snippets of the work’s original Greek, but perhaps the most evocative passages of An Iliad—the ones that best translate the horrors (and humanity) of war—are found when the narrator speaks in a contemporary tongue. It is then that the bard in a pork pie hat is something of an Everyman. He’s the guy on the third barstool from the jukebox. He’s your neighbor chatting over the fence. He’s the cabbie talking your ear off as the meter ticks away. He’s a storyteller.
The play unfolds on an almost entirely bare stage, but Dorner’s is a performance of incredible physicality. The most energetic Slam artist has nothing on this guy. Moving seamlessly between shadow and light, lucidity and lunacy, The Poet strikes a breathlessly riveting figure. His only companion is The Muse, played by stand-up bassist Max Stehr. The musician speaks no lines. He alternately caresses and then attacks his instrument. His bass is not an avenue for providing a musical score so much as it is a source of sound effects and other machinations that drone and groan and scream and whimper in punctuating The Poet’s words.
Homer has never been more accessible—or relevant. His characters wielded bows, spears, and shields, but they could just as easily have been planting roadside bombs or firing rocket launchers. Sadly, The Poet’s bellicose subject matter is sourced from a bottomless abyss. His stories have no beginning and no end.
The Poet, it would seem, will forever be under the spell of the gods. He’ll always have new tales to tell. In the meantime, Director Cathy Kurz’s An Iliad is flat-out unforgettable theatre.
An Iliad runs through Nov. 30 at the Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre, 1002 Dodge St. Visit bsbtheatre.com for ticket information.