I know it's unsporting to review a preview performance, but unless they tore up the script, re-assigned the cast and hired a new director, there is little ACT can do at this late stage to salvage the disaster they are about to unleash.
This is sad on many fronts, not least of which is these are obviously hard times for many arts companies, ACT included, judging by Carey Perloff's comments in the program. It's the right time to stage something bold, provocative and daring to remind us of how art can speak to us- especially theater. It's not the time to stage something as dreadful and misguided as War Music. After enduring 2 hours and 45 minutes of this I'm not sure there could ever be a right time to stage this mess.
I think they should just throw the whole thing out and perform the Oresteia with marionettes instead.
The story is ostensibly The Iliad, taken from Christopher Logue's "updating." Problem number one: The Iliad doesn't need updating. It can always benefit from a good contemporary translation, but updating? Hello? Are you nuts?
Problem number two: I'm not at all convinced that anyone involved with this project has read the original since high school, or maybe ever. There is no other way to account for such gross misinterpretations of the central characters and their situations. Sorry- Paris is not a "double" of Achilles. No, Hector is not a minor character. Yes, Achilles is really pissed off. Agamemnon may be a selfish ass but he is not a fop.
Problem three: with the exception of the fine jobs done by Christopher Tocco as Patroclus and Anthony Fusco as Odysseus, almost everyone else is horribly miscast. This is only made worse by making everyone perform three roles. Jack Willis, who has a very distinct and strong stage voice, plays Zeus, Nestor and Anchises with the same voice and same mannerisms. Ditto for Jud Williford playing Paris and Achilles. In better hands, actors assuming multiple roles could add dimensions to the characters and perhaps provide psychological insight. Here it just looks like a cost-cutting measure.
Problem 4 (and if this format seems monotonous just wait until you see the play): cargo pants and black T-Shirts straight from Old Navy? That's a costume? Blue berets for the Trojans (Crips?), red (Bloods) for the Greeks- very deep- very hip. Yeah- gangs. Got the message?
Problem 4 1/2: overweight actors in cargo pants and T-shirts look like justification for abolishing casual Fridays- not thespians to which you're supposed to be paying attention.
Problem 5: I read that director Lillain Groad was deeply disappointed the budget didn't allow for live musicians to accompany the action on stage. To play what exactly? Completely irrelevant snippets of Das Rheingold, a 45 second blast of heavy metal and background music I mistook for a cell phone going off at least a half dozen times? Do you remember that scene in Waiting for Guffman when Corky asks the city council for a hundred thousand dollars and the guy says "What the hell is wrong with you?"
Problem 6: THE SCRIPT! Is the tone Shakespeare? Is the tone Rent? Is the tone Hannah Montana?
Problem 7: This is San Francisco. Berkeley and Stanford are really close by. They have classics departments staffed with brilliant people who really know this material. Someone at ACT should have called a couple of them and invited them over for a glass of wine and a chat. Maybe then they would not have put Achilles' helmet on the ground. It's Hector who puts his helmet on ground. It signifies something. It's one of the thousands of subtle but telling moments in the story. Maybe someone should have read it again.
A final bit of snark: I did hear the word "thong"- yes, as in underwear - spoken at least twice during this play. I did not hear the word "greave"- or even "grieve" for that matter, spoken once. Enough said. My wrath has sung.