An Iliad, at PacRep, May 4, 2013

AN ILIAD

By Philip Pearce

Pacific Repertory Theatre has launched its Summer/Fall season with an intense hundred-minute commentary on Homer’s classic song of Greeks and Trojans at war called An Iliad. “An” not “The” because authors Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare offer one particular and shrewd selection of the epic’s characters and events among other possible choices. And “commentary” rather than “retelling” because they home in on those moments of Homer’s work that confront us with the terrible blind futility of war, back then and right here and now.

Our guide is The Poet (Homer himself? a contemporary bard with an epic obsession?) daring us not to “Look, look” (his mantra) at the horrors he sometimes narrates, more often performs to demand our pity and horror. Director Kenneth Kelleher’s production notes remind us that the first word in Homer’s text is “rage” and this swift, terrifying production never lets you forget it.

As the play’s sole  figure, Jackson Davis moves through Patrick McEvoy’s compact and evocative set like a raging wolf and stares us down like an indignant eagle. His energy and focus are astounding as he shifts from then to now, from narration to performance, thence to blatant and bitter harangue. I’ve never seen the obscene blood lust of a  war hero presented as baldly on stage as in the climax of Davis’s victorious Achilles. Yet even more telling is his quiet, almost conversational roll call of wars and wars and more wars from the Crusades to Syria.

If you are looking for detached scholarly history or a perceptive bit of literary criticism, this is not your show. If you welcome theatre with an almost ruthless impact and immediacy, head for PacRep between now and June 2.