An Iliad by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare
published in 2012
Scholars for centuries have debated whether Homer’s Iliad is a pro- or anti-war epic. And it’s a great discussion, because even though war is undeniably the thematic center of the work, glory and grief are both explored so fully that there’s always going to be this unresolved ambiguity. Meanwhile Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare’s theatrical adaptation An Iliad firmly takes a side and runs with it.
An Iliad is a one-man show, in which our narrator, ‘The Poet,’ tells the story of the Trojan War, focusing on the conflict between Achilles and Hector. Abbreviated with admirable succinctness, all major events that occur in the human realm in The Iliad are at least touched upon. But more than a simple retelling, Peterson and O’Hare take a story with a famously epic scope, and bring it down to a scale that we as a contemporary audience can engage with, imbuing it with intimate and tactile details which I imagine are only augmented while viewing it in its intended theatrical setting.
You could argue that there’s a certain lack of subtlety in an anti-war polemic that takes up four entire pages relaying a list of every known major conflict in recorded history. But it’s the immediacy of hearing (or reading) these words – the suffocating rhythm of the list and its fearlessness that really drives home the tension and horror and tragedy which exist both at the heart of the epic and at the heart of Peterson and O’Hare’s vision. Wrought with inevitability as our weary narrator tells the story he’s so familiar with, An Iliad is a piercing examination and condemnation of the horrors of war, and man’s tendency toward conflict. A thought-provoking, faithful adaptation which honors the original story and embraces the unique conventions of its medium.