The Rebellious one had warned me about Thaïs from the first time I introduced them, and in her best channeling-Barbara Stanwyck-mode, told me I was only asking for problems with this one. More than two years later, we sat looking out my window on a gorgeous, warm evening, eating salad while I validated her warning, filling her in on the five past months. The second arrival. The second departure. The re-run, the fallout, the resulting sense of paralyzing futility that comes from ending up exactly where you started, only with much less of what you had when it all began.
The Rebellious one said something was different this time. She saw a change. She knew the story was the same but she sensed a different outcome. I told her I was willing to let it lay this time, to not return to the front for a third tour, finally ready to place my helmet upon the ground and leave it there. This particular Helen hadn't been worth the war. Was there one who ever was? Which brings me to An Iliad of a different kind.
|Henry Worinics as the Poet An Iliad. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com|
Hours later, we watched with admiration as Henry Woronicz took a deep bow on Berkeley Rep's Thrust Stage, concluding a truly epic performance. He had just spent an hour and forty-five minutes driving home the futility of war, thousands of years of wars, with unflinching determination. As The Poet (Homer), Woronicz, resident actor and director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, had taken Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare's lean distillation of Robert Fagles' justly praised translation of the The Iliad and spun it out for an audience on two levels- one epic, the other intensely personal. And it was easily the best theatrical performance I've seen this year, and perhaps the best solo performance I've seen since I Am My Own Wife.
The Poet enters and almost immediately tells us how tired he is of telling this particular tale. How wearying it is to tell the same story over and over, for what seems an eternity- and to him its obvious he feels it as such. But he has no other tale to tell- this one is his- there are many like it, but this one is his. And he's going to tell it one more time, with only the faintest hint betraying that what he would really like most of all is to never have to tell this fucking story again. Okay, so there is really nothing subtle about any of it, but when you're bringing an epic that is only 10% of the entire tale to begin with, subtleties are a luxury best discarded.
Woronicz's Poet isn't only telling us the story of what happened in the ninth year of the Trojan War, he's manifesting it physically onstage during his performance: the confusion, the anger, the madness, rage, hopelessness and bewilderment run across his face and through his body, rendering a portrait of an individual so alienated by what he's seen, which only grows with each re-telling, he's at the point where he alternates between being in tune with everything happening around him, every nuance of which leaves a silent but visible impression on him, and callous indifference.
Out of nowhere, and for no good reason perhaps other than that I seem to recall the Greek poets who originally performed these works also worked with one, a musician, bassist Brian Ellingsen, barges in and adds a brilliantly electrified and electrifying component to it all. I'm not sure it's necessary, but Mark Bennett's score adds drama and a sense of disorientation to the whole, as does the lighting by Scott Zielinski. An Iliad is powerful theater, and I can't praise Woronicz's performance highly enough. It plays through November 18th. See it.