Long Wharf Theatre
Long Wharf Theatre is currently presenting an absolutely mesmerizing production of the play, “An Iliad.” As adapted from Homer by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, and employing a translation by Robert Fagles, “An Iliad” grabs one’s attention right from the opening moments and holds the audience spellbound from beginning to end. Essentially a solo show, the main role of “The Poet” in the play is portrayed by the riveting Rachel Christopher, who is able to elicit both laughter and intense emotions as she talks, not only of the Trojan War, but of the many wars that have followed it. As her “Muse,” Zdenko Martin basically plays music in the show, as well as having some dialogue of his own.
Director Whitney White has done wonders in bringing “An Iliad” to the stage, and she works excellently with her team of designers. And, for a play in which the main role was originally played by a man, “An Iliad” remains trenchant and powerful with Rachel Christopher in the lead, and she proves to be a perfect fit for the production. In a deeply involving and insightful ninety minutes or so, “An Iliad” at Long Wharf Theatre is glorious in not only the stories and tales that are told in the play, but also by the sheer electricity of it as a piece of theatre. And, even if one doesn’t know a great deal about Greek mythology, this show is an absolute must.
When Rachel Christopher makes her entrance in the show, she does so in front of a curtain, with the stage containing a great deal of luggage. Indeed, it is possible to think that the action of the play will take place in an airport setting. However, once the curtain is pulled aside, the audience is able to the see pieces of a large rock that extends into what looks like a mountain (the terrific set design is by Daniel Soule). Still, even while the design embraces the ancient past of Greek mythology, there is a great deal of musical equipment on the other side of the stage, with Zdenko Martin, as “The Muse,” skillfully playing an electric guitar.
As styled by the director, “An Iliad” moves fluidly through the many time periods conjured up in the text. And, all the while, there is Christopher, as “The Poet,” centerstage, speaking about Achilles and Homer and Helen of Troy, as well as taking a viewer into the contemporary world. One cannot underestimate the brilliance of this actress: more so than any other element in this show, Christopher is absolutely sensational and truly illuminates the superlative stories and dialogue in the play, which she uses to keep an audience member pinned to their seat.
The costume design by Andy Jean is also pretty stellar, with Christopher wearing a combination of contemporary clothing and, most significantly, a suit of armor appropriate to the Trojan War. Kate McGee’s lighting design practically shapes the various scenes in the play and adds enormously to the transfixing world that is presented onstage. In addition to effectively playing “The Muse,” Zdenko Martin is also responsible for the music in the show (a credit he shares with the director). Everything comes together seamlessly in this production.
The main point of “An Iliad” is not just that there has been war in the past, but that it keeps continuing throughout history into the present time. And, while not exactly an anti-war play, the show brings the question up, “when will this all stop?” “An Iliad” doesn’t have all the answers, but the production at Long Wharf Theatre is essential viewing, just to be enthralled by Rachel Christopher’s amazing performance alone. “The Iliad” is an eloquent and exciting piece of theatre that truly demands to be seen.
“An Iliad” continues performances at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT through April 14, 2019. For tickets, please visit www.longwharf.org or call the box office at 203-787-4282.
Photo: (L-R): Rachel Christopher and Zdenko Martin
Photo by T. Charles Erickson