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Heavy-handed Iliad an unbalanced evening
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Heavy-handed Iliad an unbalanced evening

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

An Iliad
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through May 16


An Iliad is a new adaptation of the Greek story of Troy and the war with Greece. National talent and co-author Denis O'Hare was also going to act in this presentation, now at Seattle Repertory Theatre, but got one of those 'too good to turn down' offers in Hollywood, so he continued work on the script with Lisa Peterson while Hans Altweis was cast in his stead.

This condensed version of the epic tale brings it to an accessible length of 90 or so minutes. It also takes the language into the 21st century for the most part, in order to make clear that it's a tale about a long and rather horrible war. No glorification of heroes, this.

Altweis is a charismatic and broad-ranged actor. He's got the chops to hold the audience for the whole production, and ranges from "normal" to "poetic" in the blink of an eye. He plays a disheveled and almost disheartened Poet, telling the tale of the war for the hundred-thousandth time, but it's wearing thin. He's costumed by Marcia Dixcy Jory in a rumpled traveling suit and comes to tell us his story on an unadorned, unprepared stage (artfully created by Rachel Hauck). Through dramatic lighting by Scott Zeilinski and subtle sound by Paul James Prendergast, he alternately rages and whispers the tale as he both narrates and performs as the various characters.

The performance aspects of the play are the best and the most compelling. There is a lot of narration, however, and a lot of "explanation." That's good for an audience that doesn't know the story to begin with, but is a bit didactic and heavy-handed for those graduated from school. He says he used to be able to tell the same tale for weeks or months at a time, but that doesn't make much sense when he's boiled it down to 90 minutes and we don't find it that compelling. How could he possibly stretch it out for months and keep it interesting?

Altweis began by helping us connect to the reality of what nine years can actually feel like: you go away when your child is 1 and come back when he's 10; you come back and your wife or parent have died. People don't wear "that old stuff" anymore. That music is "old," that store closed a long time ago. It's a nice way to demonstrate what nine years feels like. It leads to thoughts like, "What the heck do you do living on a ship for years at a time?" There are ways that it brings a grounded, engaging reality to the story, but the telling wears thin.

When Altweis becomes the enraged Achilles or the weary Hector, the glimpse of the real talent of "the storyteller" emerges. When he lists many of the major wars that have taken place since the Greek wars - and there are many, many, many to list - you might end up feeling a little pummeled by the "war is bad" lesson. The "why" of the production is based on rocky logic, and produces an unbalanced evening.

For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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