“An Iliad,” by Denis O’Hare & Lisa Peterson, with Stephen Spinella

Here's a neat idea.  We know that "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" were originally lengthy poems recited by rhapsodes to audiences in Greek taverns and other gathering places, passed down and refined over generations until somebody finally transcribed them and attributed them to Homer, about whom virtually nothing is known.  Lisa Peterson had the idea of attempting to recreate in a modern way the idea of a rhapsode – a lyrical reciter – relating the tale of "The Iliad" in a dramatic staging – one actor on the stage – and enlisted actor Denis O'Hare in her project.  Together they put composed an approximately 100-minute long version, based on the Robert Fagles translation, and also enlisted actor Stephen Spinella in the project. 

The production has been presented several times since 2006 in a variety of settings, sometimes with O'Hare as the rhapsode, sometimes with Spinella.  Now they are settled in for a run at New York Theatre Workshop on East 4th Street, with O'Hare and Spinella alternating.  O'Hare opened the production on March 6, and Spinella played his premiere on March 7.  I attended the March 7 performance.

This is an extraordinary experience.  I found myself totally wrapped up in the narrative for the full 100 minutes.  I imagine the experience differs significantly depending upon which of the actors is performing, and I'm a fan of both of them, so now I'm thinking that if there is a way to find the time in my schedule it would be terrific to go again to experience O'Hare's presentation.  Just to avoid false impressions, I have to add that they present this in modern dress – the actors are not impersonating Homer or an ancient Greek rhapsode, just appropriating the role in a modern context.  There is original music by Mark Bennett, some pre-recorded, but much of it performed live on a balcony to the left of the theater by the virtuoso double bass player Brian Ellingsen.  Peterson directs, and it is quite amazing the variety of experience one can get from one talented actor working with one director to bring this class story to vivid life.

This one gets my highest recommendation.  I don't know how long the run will be, but I would not hesitate if you are interested.  The NY Times reviewed it this morning, which is likely to stimulate quite a bit of interest, and it's a small theater, so hesitators may be out of luck.

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