The Iliad with Paul Hecht, Kate Burton and More at 92nd Street Y - March 7
Warriors greedy for glory and the wealth of foreign land; an arrogant king, reckless with the lives of his soldiers; ordinary men capable of extraordinary courage and self- sacrifice; a lust for vengeance; a city ablaze; men cut down in the bloom of youth; the wails of widows and parents. . . . 2,700 years have not altered the great themes of war that Homer captured in The Iliad.
On Monday, March 7, the 92nd Street Y presents The Rage of Achillesthe world premiere of Kathryn Walker's adaptation for the stage of Robert Fagles' translation of The Iliad. Kathryn Walker directs a cast that includes Kate Burton, Keith David, George Grizzard, Paul Hecht, Mary Beth Hurt, Maeve Kinkead, Griffin Mathhews, and Larry Pine in this staged reading with a minimalist set. Robert Black, River Guerguerian, and Diedre Murray of Bang on a Can perform original music. Walker's 90-minute adaptation draws on selections of The Iliad that she considers "the essential action of the poem: the rage of Achilles that leads inexorably to the death of Hector." This performance is presented in association with Diane Wondisford of Music-Theatre Group.
Tickets are available from www.92y.org.
First published in 1990, Robert Fagles' translation of the The Iliad is considered the definitive contemporary translation, widely praised for the velocity and beauty of its language. In The New York Times Book Review, Oliver Taplin called the translation "more readable than Lattimore or Fitzgerald, and more performable. .. . plain, direct, noble and above all rapid." This is not the first time Dr. Fagles has collaborated with Kathryn Walker or the 92nd Street Y Poets Theater: Kathryn Walker and Jason Robards performed selections from Fagles' translation of the Odyssey at the 92nd Street Y in 1998. They later took the Odyssey to Harvard and Princeton. Of the upcoming performance at the 92nd Street Y, Dr. Fagles' says, "The Iliad is the world's most famous tale of war, now performed during a time of war, and directed by the brilliant Kathryn Walker with her fine troupe of actors, people with clarity, passion, and humanity. I would not miss it."
It's likely that Homer composed The Iliad sometime between 725 and 675B.C. and that the epic poem was performed orally for generations before it was written down. Though some scholars view The Iliad as relentless in its glorification of violence, Kathryn Walker does not see it this way. She notes that throughout the epic, images of brutal bloodshed are juxtaposed with poignant memories of peace:
The wives of Troy and all their lovely daughters would wash their glistening robes in the old days the days of peace before the sons of Achaea came. . .
Walker believes that The Iliad is as much about the suffering war engenders as it is about the glittering feats of warriors. She remarks: "Homer is never sentimental about the reality of war. While combat and heroism are glorifiedGreece was after all a warrior culturethe terrible suffering inflicted by extreme violence and the agony of individual death is equally powerfully described. Homer does not take sides with the Trojans or the Greeks. In a situation as savage as war, all parties are affected and degraded. As Simone Weil suggests in her fine essay about The Iliad, the real theme of the poem is force, force that reduces subjects to objects -- corpses and slaves." Walker notes that one of the main ideas of The Iliad is that violence rebounds on its perpetrators. She points to the words of the Trojan hero Hector, "The god of war is impartial: he hands out death to the man who hands out death."
Walker adds, "The story of the Trojan War is the founding document of Greek literature and history; history begins with aggression and war. Sadly, more then 2000 years later, the Iliad has as much relevance to contemporary events as it did to ancient Greece."
David Yezzi, director of the 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center and its Poets' Theater, has noticed a renewed interest in the Greek classics that goes beyond the recent movie Troy. He says, "The Greek classics resonate today because they look unflinchingly at statecraft and morality in times of war." In July, Ben Brantley of The New York Times reported on a deluge of Greek classics on the London stage, including Euripides' "Iphigenia at Aulis," at the National Theater. There is evidence that this trend is also taking hold in New York. This June, BAM presents Euripides' Hecuba starring Vanessa Redgrave. In March, Baruch Performing Arts Center stages A Very Naughty Greek Play based on Aristophanes' Wasps. In April, the 92nd Street Y presents "Three Classics," a reading of Homer's The Odyssey by translator Robert Fagles, of Ovid's Metamorphosis by translator CharLes Martin, and of Virgil's Georgics by the translator David Ferry. Tickets for this reading are selling briskly. The 92nd Street Y is also offering a course called "Human Tragedy Through Greek Eyes: The Trojan War Cycle."
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Kathryn Walker's work on Broadway includes The Good Doctor, A Touch of the Poet, Private Lives and Wild Honey. She has worked extensively Off-Broadway and in television. She is the force behind many of the 92nd Street Y's classical Theater Productions. She recently directed and performed in five shows at the 92nd Street Y Poets' Theater: Anne Carson's translation of Euripides' Hekabe (2004); Anne Carson's translation of Sophokles' Elektra (2002); Paul Schmidt's translation of Euripides' Medea (2001); C.K. William's The Bacchae of Euripides (2000) and Joel Agee's translation of Kleist's Penthesilea (1996). After last year's triumphant performance of Anne Carson's Hekabe at the 92nd Street Y, she took the show to The Lensic Theater in Santa Fe for a summer production. In the summer of 2003, Medea and Electra were produced in conjunction with Music/Theatre Group at Simon's Rock College in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Walker performed Robert Fagles' translation of The Odyssey with Jason Robards at Harvard, Princeton and the 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center in 1997, where the production was recorded by C-Span. She received an Emmy for her performance as Abigal Adams in PBS' The Adams Chronicles. With the late William Alfred, she co-founded The Athens Street Company. In 1997, she was Rothschild Artist in Residence at Radcliffe College where she directed a student production of Euripides' The Bacchae. Her six-part documentary series The Millennium Journal has been shown on the PBS cable channel, Metro Arts. She lives in New York City and Tesuque, New Mexico.