BWW Review: Quill Conquers with AN ILIAD at Buzzards Play Productions
It is part of human nature to feel nostalgic of certain times or events in one's life, and with nostalgia come feelings of joy, regret, excitement, remorse...feelings which compel, if not force, us to revisit the past for whichever of those reasons provides the strongest lure. Living in the past eradicates the significance of the present and greatly lessens the chance of any possible future joy; to feel obliged to retell the past through the means of hindsight and allow those growing emotions to come to fruition is something that has plagued many, from literature to real-life circumstance. Some may say it is a form of healing, mentally going back in time to bring out the events that have afflicted our minds for so long, hoping to find the reason why such dreadful memories refuse to go away; others learn from past transgressions and simply move on with their lives.
Whatever the past is, it is immortal to the person reliving it, and acknowledging the truth of this statement and thus questioning its relevance in terms of Homer's Poet is something the audience is faced with throughout An Iliad. In this beautiful one-man production, the sole man on stage offers his "immortality" to an audience of those who will listen through his tales of the Trojan War, not retelling epic battles and regurgitating facts that can be found in any history book, but conveying to his fellow listeners a story of his past. This past is one he has lived and continues to live through, boasting of and lamenting over brave men who were his friends, his enemies, his comrades in a war that he makes both he can make so simultaneously dreadful and beautiful. Not knowing for sure of his actual involvement in the events of the time, or for what reason he decides to recount and retell such events even though they cause him a considerable amount of anguish (very similar to Carraway in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby), An Iliad is just that: an epic telling of a man's past that he, presumably, must tell again and again, making his words that much more poignant as he tells of a not so distinguishable time ago.
Written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare and based on Homer's The Iliad (with a translation by Robert Fagles), Buzzards Play Productions is bringing An Iliad back to its stage after well-received performances at Cotuit Center of the Arts and the Academy Playhouse. Reprising his role as the Poet is Kevin Quill who, with each performance, has brought new life to the show by implementing new and exciting elements into this work. Quill is neither a stranger to BPP nor to theaters across the Cape, and his involvement with each has proven him to be quite a talent to be sought after. In the past, he has served as music director for Buzzard Play Productions' The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Cabaret, and has starred in such roles as Oscar in Sweet Charity, Marius in Les Miserables and Baker in Cape Rep's 9-Ball, to name a few. With An Iliad, Quill shows his appreciation of this work by bringing it back to the stage since the summer, proving to audiences that not only does he once again accept the challenge that playing the role of the Poet most surely must be considered, but also is an adept storyteller with full capability of bringing the nature of this war to new depths, amazing audiences with how well he seems to know his place in the midst of the stories he tells.
Not requiring much more than a minimalistic set, this show relies heavily on the talent of one man and the important addition of lighting and musical elements that, together, make the Poet's narrative that much more affecting. An Iliad, in essence, is so beautiful not only because of how grand is the nature of the Trojan War and thus the retelling of its glories to the people of a much distant future, but also because of how it has the ability to condense this grandiose nature (where the retelling of facts undoubtedly reigns supreme) and turn written stories into narrative, spoken by one who has experienced the war in a way no voyeur of an audience member ever could. It would be in bad esteem to say simply that this play brings these stories to life through an ambitious storyteller; there is so much more to be said about an audience bearing witness to tales that have moved beyond oral tradition, past the written word to reach the climax of being emotionally conveyed by a man who has personally witnessed all he so passionately speaks of.
An Iliad makes for such a powerful theatrical experience because of how audiences are brought so gracefully by the Poet through the battles, the fall of men, the pain, the hubris, the loss and the triumphs which constituted this war- in essence every war - from nine years since its start to the murder of Hector, entrancing in how deeply the Poet is affected by the words that come out of his own mouth. Quill is beautiful in his portrayal of a man who wants nothing more than to have his story told, and by his narrative do the horrors and triumphs of the Trojan War truly come alive again. There are no dry reiterations of facts or less-than-motivating history lessons at the core of this show; instead, there is passion in the telling of historic figures who are turned into actual people, people that we can imagine as being real to us now, and how they, too, were affected by the battles they all so adamantly became a part of.
Peterson and O'Hare offer the Poet center stage to present nine years into the Trojan War in whatever manner he sees fit, and Quill accepts such a responsibility with such authority and duty the moment he steps out before his public. Standing before people he may either consider friends or foes, he appears as a sort of prophet before men, although his job is not to preach of the glory he has witnessed in men such as Achilles and Hector; instead, he must retell the horrors of war but must somehow bring those he knew, those who are mere, impersonal historic figures to the rest of us, to the people. He must convey how Achilles was a real man who was fueled (perhaps cursed) by an undying rage yet who offered kindness to an ailing Priam after the murder of his son; he must accept the fact that his memories of the soldiers who occupied Greek ships and the significance such an image holds for him are not simply hollow shells of a forgotten past, but are as much with him today as they were when he first beheld their vast numbers in pursuit of Troy.
Quill walks onto that stage and demands, with such a subtle yet captivating stance, that those before him listen to all he has to say, and with such an authority does he as the Poet begin to tell the story of men who once graced this Earth, hardly allowing anyone bearing witness to his testimony to believe, for one moment, that they have been forgotten in any sense. Quill is able to bring the audience from nine years into the war to the moment of Hector's murder by Achilles with the ability to hold their attention for the entire duration of his narrative. He breathes new life into each character he references, telling their stories in their own words and aptly portraying everyone from Agamemnon to Achilles, from Hector and Andromache, to Paris and Helen, and does so in a fashion that keeps everyone actively (even willingly) engaged in what is happening before their eyes. He brings out each personality in such a distinguishable and riveting way that the audience follows his performance so effortlessly, enjoying the twists and turns his narrative takes as he physically shows them the angst involved in both what he tells and the manner in which he must tell it.
For example, when explaining Patroclus, a dear friend of Achilles, and his ambition to conquer the Trojan legion wearing his comrade's armor, Quill takes command of the stage and exudes all the rage and glory that moment demands as he depicts this young man tearing his way through the bodies of Trojan men; watching his flight from narrator to a man suddenly overtaken with anger is just one of the transformations he is able to make in the telling of his stories. He is perpetually engaged in and dedicated to the telling of these stories, and with such conviction comes little doubt that he is less than a very skilled actor who has rightfully accepted such a challenge as not simply a one man show, but particularly this one man show that requires a certain dedication on the actor's behalf to perform well.
There are many fascinating elements of this show, but in relation to what I spoke about earlier in the review, the audience must ask itself this question: what, indeed, can be said to be the Poet's fate? Within this show alone, there is so much talk of the clashing of gods and men relative to an individual's fate; what can be said of heroes who fight but must still be destined to come to some sort of untimely end? Where does the Poet come into the picture: was he a soldier engaged in war, a comrade but distant bystander of Greek triumphs or does he perhaps just relate the glories of men who dealt with their own personal conflicts in the midst of a raging war? I ask such a question in relation to what I find most fascinating about Quill's performance: his ability to so poignantly tell a story that, to this day, continues to affect him in the most obvious of ways. There are those aforementioned moments when he gives it his all to convey what, exactly, was experienced by each man and woman involved in his narrative, but it is in those moments when he just stops, stares at the audience or perhaps stands with his head lowered and just digests all that he speaks of.
Quill portrays his Poet as a man who, with every ounce of his being, wants to properly convey what he once witnessed of this brutal war; yet, whether or not he wishes to remember is another story altogether, and how Quill struggles with that decision is at times heartbreaking to watch. The Poet is so engrossed in his story yet so deeply affected by what he has seen throughout time, and by the way he speaks and describes the battles and encounters of Homer's Iliad does he also portray the inescapable dread it causes him to tell of these epic tales. Such tales are told, but he then stops speaking, almost in shock or perhaps amazed by the severity of his own words, words that lead to memories that are both beautiful but repeatedly saddening to this man's spirit. Quill has this unique ability of simultaneously being so consumed as if living in his own microcosm of a world, but then with one look at the audience confirms his duty as its storyteller, never faltering to perform that duty to a tee. I believe that such an element of his character - such a profound respect for his fallen comrades, existent even after the unknown number of times the Poet has already told this story - might possibly be overlooked by other actors involved in other productions, but watching him perform, this is something I was most receptive to and an aspect of his performance that I greatly admired.
This time around, Quill decided to implement a more profound musical element into his performance, using the original score by Mark Bennett. In addition to the other changes made to the production over the years, he explains how "I've done three or four runs of this show over the last few years; each time you want to add to or improve it. This time we got the right to Bennett's original music for double bass that underscores and punctuates the whole evening. If and when I perform it again, I'd love to have a live musician play the score; we'll see!"
So for whatever reason the Poet chooses to tell the story of a time so dear to his own heart, of a time so long ago yet still incredibly relevant to the recurring battles faced today, it is a wonder to behold upon BPP's stage. If you aren't amazed by the show in it entirety, just wait until near to the end when Quill must name, in chronological order, wars of past and present, and just watching him not simply name these wars but feel every implication of pain and suffering they offer, ever great moment shattered by the fact that wars are still occurring and he presumably bore witness to them all, is just as affecting to our Poet as it is to the audience to watch him feel the effects of his words.
In closing, if you would like to be impressed not only by the sheer beauty of watching one person perform so difficult a monologue, but also by the words that he speaks, go and see An Iliad over at Buzzards Play Productions, located at 3065 Cranberry Highway in Wareham. Only two performance dates are offered: Saturday, November 14th @ 8PM and Sunday, November 15th @ 2 PM, so be there! Tickets are $20 and may be reserved by visiting www.brownpapertickets.com, by calling (508) 591. 3065 or by emailing email@example.com.
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Buzzard Play Productions