An Iliad: War goes on, and on, and on

Stephen Yoakam as The Poet.
Stephen Yoakam as The Poet.
Photo by Aaron Fenster

Homer first wrote about the events in The Iliad nearly 3,000 years ago. Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare's An Iliad shows us that little has changed in the interceding centuries.

Stephen Yoakam, under the direction of Benjamin McGovern, gives a riveting performance as the Poet in the Guthrie Theater's production of the 2010 play.

The title change from "the" to "an" is a vital one. Yoakam's character is really the spirit of Homer, who has been reciting this story for eons. He notes at the beginning that he used to spend days singing the story. This time out, it will all unfold over 90 minutes or so. 

More importantly, this isn't just the story of the ancient war outside of the walls of Troy. Throughout the piece, the character interjects thoughts of other battlefields. In one stunning moment, he runs down a weary list of the wars that have happened in the three millennia since Troy, and it certainly isn't a complete one.

The focus here is mainly on the story within the Iliad: about Achilles and Agamemnon, Hector and Paris, and about the Greek and Trojan soldiers who fall on both sides during the fierce fighting.

It also centers on the story's striking moment of mercy at the end, as Achilles' rage dissipates in the face of a grieving father who only wants to bury the body of his son.

Yoakam masterfully handles all of this material. He doesn't just tell us the story, but also fills out the storyteller's personality and character. The Poet may occasionally tell jokes, but there is nothing soft or fun-loving about this man. The telling and retelling of the story, and the knowledge that he could find similar tales on any of a thousand battlefields, has worn him down.

Yoakam is aided by a striking set from Michael Hoover and the work of lighting designer Tom Mays. Special credit also goes to sound and music creator Greg Brodsofske, who builds a remarkable aural tapestry that works perfectly with Yoakam's performance.


An Iliad
Through May 26
Guthrie Theater,
818 S. Second St., Minneapolis
For more information, call 612.377.2224 or visit online.
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Guthrie Theater

818 S. 2nd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55415


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