An Iliad at Long Wharf Theatre
Denis O'Hare and Lisa Peterson's play, An Iliad, is the tale of the Trojan War as you've never heard it before. Based on Robert Fagles's translation of Homer, it is classic yet contemporary, but, above all, it is compelling, especially because of the tour de force performance of Rachel Christopher. Even if the subject doesn't appeal to you, this is a show you must attend because Rachel Christopher is perhaps the finest stage actresses ever. Let's see why.
The play is powerful and complicated because there's a lot to digest, not just about the Trojan War, but the confusing Greek and Trojan characters. There are cheat sheets in the lobby of the Long Wharf Theatre's Stage II theatre to help you distinguish between the kingdoms and principals of Troy and Mycenaean Greece.
Now let's get to the play. There are two characters - The Poet (Rachel Christopher) and The Muse (Zdenko Martin). Sadly, the role of The Muse is underdeveloped. He sings a little, but is on stage mostly to provide guitar music. Martin, who contributed music to this production, is excellent. That said, there is otherwise no reason for The Muse to be in the play because almost all the words are spoken by The Poet, which makes it virtually a one-woman show. In theory, the music can be canned. (As the granddaughter and niece of professional musicians, that makes me cringe.) Which brings us to Rachel Christopher.
As The Poet, Rachel Christopher packs the story of the Trojan War and subsequent wars, including ones that were fought since 2001 into about 85 minutes of stage time. "Every time I sing this song, I hope it is the last time," she says. There are parts that are as light as casual conversation when you're in line somewhere, but much of it is commanding, fierce, and heart wrenching. And some of it is in Ancient Greek, but it turns out that Rachel Christopher's skills include speaking and reading Ancient Greek. Check it out on her resume (https://www.browntrinity.com/alumni/actor-rachristopher/, which has not yet been updated to include An Iliad.
Is the name Rachel Christopher now set in your mind? When you see her in An Iliad, you will have seen one of the finest performances on any stage. Dressed in black and white with edgy boots (a costume designed by Andy Jean) and wheeling contemporary luggage as she commands the stage and conquers the audience with the same determination as she climbs the craggy part of Daniel Soule's clever set design. Kate McGee's lighting and Lee Kinney's sound design complement the set perfectly. Claire Zoghb's brilliant program has a cover that shows the barrenness after war and art in the dramaturgy that you will want to save.