A Fascinating ‘Iliad’ at the Court Theatre
Several times during the 90-minute production of the Court Theater’s revival of “An Iliad,” Timothy Edward Kane looks up with illuminated eyes and asks a dumbstruck audience, “Do you see?”
What we’re seeing, in fact, is a one-man performance of epic proportions. Kane is the show’s storyteller, known as The Poet, and his material is Homer’s infamous 24-book epic that’s been brilliantly distilled by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare. The Poet, a sort of loose stand-in for Homer himself, feverishly recounts the tale of the Trojan War, describing Greek teens sent to bloody battles and unknown warriors slaving through nine grueling years at war.But Kane doesn’t need to ask us if we see what he’s describing—with his immersive storytelling skills, we see every vivid scene.
The Poet focuses his particular tale on the feud between the Greek hero Achilles and the Trojan warrior Hector. The Greek beauty Helen has been kidnapped by the Trojans, but at this point, the reason for war is no longer relevant. As The Poet says, “It’s always something.”
The Poet painstakingly recounts the story, describing hundreds of ships helmed by vengeful Greek warriors and tender scenes of family love between Hector and his newborn son. Neither side remembers why, exactly, they’re at war; only that they’re in too deep to go home now. Peterson and O’Hare’s script isn’t just a railing diatribe against the horrors of war; it’s a passionate plea to recognize the parallels between ancient battle scenes and today’s mindless acts of terrorism. In the show’s most memorable scene, a lengthy, unbroken stream of wars spills from Kane’s mouth—he starts with the Trojan War, works his way up through the Hundred Years’ War, the War of the Roses, WWI, Persian Gulf and, finally, the Syrian conflict. Only after Kane had finished his entire, impassioned tirade did I realize I was holding my breath.
Kane uses Todd Rosenthal’s stunning set and Keith Parham’s inventive lighting techniques to his advantage. Loose bricks, crumbling stone walls, a dripping water pipe and stray matches all become unlikely props as Kane unleashes his fanatic energy. His performance and the reworked script breathes new life into Homer’s work. And with only one week of performances left, only one final word comes to mind: Hurry.
“An Iliad” runs through Sunday, Dec. 15 at the Court Theatre (5535 S. Ellis) on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $45-$65 and are available online or by phone at 773-753-4472. For calendar information please visit www.theatreinchicago.com.