AN ILIAD (Arden): Rage returns to Ilium

an iliad arden

Mary Tuomanen in AN ILIAD. Photo by Wide Eyed Studios.

RAGE. That word—in war-declared typeface—starts Homer’s epic The Iliad in the revered Robert Fagles translation. It’s the right start for a long, thrilling and violent poem about the Trojan War the ancient Greeks fought in Ilium (and thus the epic’s title). 

An Iliad is a different animal entirely. Rage—in any typeface—does not describe this contemporary anti-war Homeric knockoff. Written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, it is a one-person staged monologue; its signature emotion, as it struck me when I have read it and seen it, is exhausted despair. 

That is, until Mary Tuomanen takes on the enormous role of The Poet in the Arden Theatre’s new production where outrage is the dominant passion.  In a bold, visceral performance, sometimes veering into the self-consciously folksy, but mostly giving the strong script its due. It is a moving show, and the audience is likely to leave stunned and distraught at the play’s thus-was-it-ever revelations about human nature.

The premise is that the Poet—this revives the oral tradition—has for more than three thousand years, recited the story; she creates a world of battlefields and palaces for us to visualize and characters for us to imagine. She depends partly on physical gestures—slapping, clapping, rubbing, touching herself—that seemed a bit excessive, as did the touches of a Hermes as flamboyantly gay (“fabulous gold sandals”) and a throw-away Helen (“bitch that I am”).

Jordan McCree provides underscoring—sometimes distracting, sometimes supportive— from an onstage turntable, and Rebecca Wright directs.

[Arden Theater Co at Bob and Selma Horan Studio Theatre, Hamilton Family Arts Center, 62 N. 2nd Street] November 13-December 15, 2019; ardentheatre.org

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About the author

Toby Zinman

Toby Zinman is a recently retired professor of English at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was a Fulbright professor at Tel Aviv University and a visiting professor in China. She publishes widely and lectures internationally on American drama. Her fifth book, Replay: Classic Modern Drama Reimagined, was published by Methuen, and she published the essay, "Visions of Tragedy in Contemporary American Drama," in 2017. Zinman is also the chief theater critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. She was named by American Theatre magazine as, “one of the 12 most influential critics in America.” Her travel writing has taken her all over the world, from dogsledding in the Yukon to hiking across England.