By Laura Gentry
My husband, William, and I caught the Wealhouse production of An Iliad, featuring Ben Gorman last summer. Admittedly, I would have skipped a one-man show about an ancient war. It didn’t really capture my interest, but we know that anything Commonweal is going to be good. So we headed on in for an evening performance, wholly unprepared for the epic journey upon which Ben was about to take us.
The show begins with a storyteller entering and slowly recounting scenes from the war—scenes most of us remember from having read The Iliad in school, or seeing Brad Pitt play a sexy Achilles in the movie Troy. The stories were vaguely familiar to me; but the more Ben told them, the more they came flooding back as he embodied the colorful characters.
It doesn’t seem like a history lesson, though; the battles come to life. As audience members we are transported to the battlefield; plopped down into the bloody, sweaty, conflict. I had never felt this narrative to be more real. Who is this storyteller? I wondered. He speaks in a modern, relevant voice yet he can recount every little detail of the Trojan war as if it were yesterday. Is he an immortal? And it exacts such an emotional toll on him! Why does he tell it? What is it telling us about the nature of war itself? What am I supposed to take from this?
I continued to ask myself that question throughout the play: “What am I supposed to take from this?” Many theatrical performances give us food for thought or a dose of entertainment. I guess I was anticipating that when I saw An Iliad, but I got so much more. It spins the yarn of the story in such a way that I felt impossibly tied up in it. This demands so much of us! How should we respond? William and I are still asking that question.
Caroline Gordon once wrote: “We do not judge great art. It judges us.” This Wealhouse production of An Iliad catapults itself into the category of great art in that it does just that. Yes, it is a technically amazing performance by a brilliant actor but in the end, that’s not what matters. It is how deeply it impacts us. We don’t think anyone should miss this performance for any reason.