Stephen Yoakam as the Poet in this spring's production of An Iliad.
Photo by Aaron Fenster
For an actor, knowing that you have a gig lined up is one of the best feelings. So you can imagine that Stephen Yoakam was excited on closing night of this spring's production of An Iliad.
"Joe [Dowling] came up to me and said, 'Don't forget the words, because we are going to redo it,'" Yoakam says.
"Half of it is to remember what we did before," Yoakam says of the short, three-week rehearsal process with director Benjamin McGovern. "We also want to take a look at some different rhythms and not just plug in the tape of what had happened before. I hope it will drop in even deeper this time than it did before."
In the one-man show, crafted by Denis O'Hare and Lisa Peterson, Yoakam plays the Poet, who recounts the story of The Iliad, along with asides about the millennia of war that have occurred since the famous siege of Troy.
The piece connects directly with the audience via Yoakam, who tells the story in a mixture of verse and modern speech. "We have the classical text and then we take a right turn and talk about modern life," he says. "The audience feels comforted by this. From the very beginning of the play, they are part of a conversation that is going to involve these extraordinary topics and this strange guy who comes off the street and tells The Iliad."
The experience was Yoakam's first in a one-person show. "What I discovered the first time, and in talking to other colleagues, is the audience is your friend -- probably more so than any other show. For a short period of time we become a community. We have a conversation together," he says.
Part of the show's resonance is that it is a "common shared experience. Everyone knows someone who has been in service to the country. It is a common bond. What I was most heartened by is that several times we had veterans who came to see the show, and they said that the show never judges the soldiers. It just says what it says and doesn't take sides. Homer didn't do that either," Yoakam says.
Both veterans and student groups have been invited to attend the show. "I'm excited to have student groups come in this time. We are having some student matinees that are specifically designed for us to talk," Yoakam says. "Kids really respond at a gut, elemental level of what the Greeks are talking about."
There is one more thing Yoakam had to redo from the original production: his Homeric beard.
"My wife handed me the razor the next morning [after closing] and said, 'Shave that,'" he says. "It came back pretty quick."
IF YOU GO:
Through Oct. 20
Dowling Studio, Guthrie Theater
818 S. Second St., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.377.2224 or visit online.