NC Stage Co's riveting 'An Iliad' condemns militarism

Review of An Iliad

Jim Cavener
Asheville Citizen-Times
4.3.15

As this writer has often written, a one-person show is a very risky undertaking. There are usually not enough elements involved in such a production to diffuse or disguise even a single weak link, yet in their dozen years of local stage work North Carolina Stage Co. has undertaken many such shows with an unusually high percentage of success.

Now joining those ranks is Immediate Theatre Project's current "An Iliad," performed by Willie Repoley from Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare's incisive contemporary script based on Homer's ancient tale. Hans Meyer's inspired direction and Repoley's incredible interpretation bring home the goods, for sure. Original somber chord piano music is composed, arranged and played by Jan Powell.

So, what's "An Iliad"? In this case, it's a riveting narrative that relates the moronic militarism of two-plus millennia. From the senseless and self-perpetuating mayhem of military might to the pathetic loss of innocent lives and the slaughter of massive numbers of young men for nearly 3,000 years, this diatribe documents the foolishness of war as a useless enterprise to seek justice and peace. In Peterson and O'Hare's fine writing it is simply made clear that war is counter-productive as a means to achieve peace.

"An Iliad" is a lesson in history we need to hear and avoid replicating any further.

In a 5-minute run-down of military skirmishes from the Peloponnesian wars of the 5th century B.C.E. to the current Ukraine conflict, Repoley gives us a massive mouthful of political and military failures, and plenty to chew on. We might well reconsider the wise words (late in life) of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who knew war and whereof he spoke in warning us to avoid future failures in our national policies that result in war.

Repoley, Meyer and the writers give us the long history to confirm that wisdom. Plenty to think about. Great theater without bells and whistles but with ample significance.

When there is only one actor on stage for 90 minutes — although often speaking for several characters — directors often rely on costume changes and visual and verbal gimmicks to avoid monotony. In this case, Meyer — one of the founders of Immediate Theatre — uses more subtle nuances to capture and hold the audience's attention.

Repoley does discard — and later dons — a cape and a knitted cap, and he bounds about the wide NCSC stage a good bit, but the athleticism is not the focus. That medium is not the message. Wise blocking carries the day.

Meyer is a master of audience manipulation. His record here as one of our most inspired directors — ranking with Warren Wilson and Amherst Colleges' Ron Bashford and Magnetic Theatre's Steve Samuels — has left a record of exceptional work we see too seldom these days. "An Iliad" will rank amongst the best he's given us.

Jim Cavener writes on theater for the Citizen-Times. Email him at jimcavener@aya.yale.edu.