Monday, September 9, 2013

The Iliad -- Cotuit, Massachusetts

I was in despair the first few times I went to the Cotuit Center for the Arts about four years ago.  I had left New York and landed in a dramatic wasteland. Okay, I thought sadly, a part of my life like the immediate availability of the Metropolitan Museum, I've given up forever.

But a new director, new enthusiasm, higher standards have arrived at that community theatre which has expanded in many, many ways, including a black box theatre seating only about 25 in a tiny ex-farmhouse where mostly one-person shows are produced.  And they have been GOOD. Not just good, EXCELLENT.  I thought it unlikely a one-man telling of The Iliad could begin to compare to a one-man play about Burbage.  But I was wrong.  Different, yes! But good, good theatre. Who could imagine?  Well, the playwright's, Lisa Peterson an Denis O'Hare first of all and then the actor, Kevin Quill, all supported by the new Artistic Director, David Kuehn.  An Iliad is not THE  Iliad; it is a modern play with a modern Homer far distant from the days when he was able to sing the epic in several days before an audience of Greeks. 

I went expecting to be disappointed. I have made myself familiar with the Odyssey and  the Oresterai for my own  playwrighting about Clytemnestera, the reviled murderer of Agamemnon, leader of the Greek army. The story of Achilles and Hector was of fringe interest to me; but the epic, the complexity of fighting for the "heroic" purpose of rescuing a kidnapped wife, when, in fact, many wars were fought at Troy for domination of trade routes -- it's always money! How could they compress this epic and include modern references as the review in the paper suggested?

I was not disappointed -- only a little sad that that the size of the ambition was beyond the grasp of writers and actor... but not much.  If I were a dramaturg I'd have made cuts to shorten the play, but not many.  Quill is a very talented actor but he is a young man. He has not had the in-depth training of some of the older actors I saw and knew personally in New York. He delivered a long, complex monologue with only very brief bobbles, but when he stopped being the story teller, Homer, and became Achilles, Hector, Priam his youth and lack of voice training, lack of exploration of his emotional mechanism were obvious. I know actors who could make the audience cower at the wrath of Achilles. Rage far beyond road rage was needed.

But between actor and writers a magnificent two or three minutes occurred when "Homer" listed wars, from the Trojan, to Peloponesian, Alexandrine, and on and on all over the world, chronological order, 60, maybe 75 wars up to Iraq and Afghanistan -- the horrible continuity of war -- so brilliantly enunciated I felt I had heard Callas singing an aria. I was so excited by the accomplishment (not just the wars most in the room would name but many, many more) I had to applaud -- and others joined me.  Then I was a little sorry because I think it broke Quill's concentration for a bit. But he deserved it. He delivered that (still only partial) listing with clarity and passion.

This is an anti-war play at a time our country is debating involving itself in another "war" (or intervention).  It was so much better than I expected that I am excited and eager to tell friends to to go see it. God! I love the theatre!!

No comments: