PSC presents An Iliad at the Estates Theatre

A modern adaptation of Homer’s epic keeps the topics relevant

Prague Shakespeare Company is presenting An Iliad at the Estates Theatre on Jan. 24. The play by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare takes its inspiration from Homer’ Iliad but is also filled with modern references.

The play is the first part of a trilogy on the Trojan War. The other part is a double bill of Shakespeare’s Troilus in Cressida and Euripides’ The Trojan Women, which will be staged April 30.

An Iliad stars PSC creative director Guy Roberts as the Poet and Jessica Boone and Fanette Ronjat as the Muses. It is directed by Rebecca Greene Udden and Guy Roberts. The play had a successful run in Houston, Texas, just before coming to Prague.

Guy Roberts says the ideas in An Iliad are still relevant. “The Iliad is the foundational epic of Western civilization — all the basic ingrained beliefs about men and women, the role of the individual to the group, duty to country/tribe vs duty to individual/family, what is just and correct action when faced with injustice and corruption — all of these things are brought wonderfully to life in the Iliad,” he said.

“The fantastic script brings these thrilling questions that still haunt us to a very human and relatable level in an easily digestible evening of theater. The great thing about the evening is audiences will leave with a keen understanding not just of the story of Achilles and Helen of Troy but also hopefully with a renewed hunger to think about and address the timeless questions in their own lives,” he added.

The play, largely in the form of a monologue, was first performed in 2012. David O’Hare became interested in the subject during the Iraq War and along with Lisa Peterson, he decided to explore it as a vehicle for a stage piece.

The music is new for the Prague and Houston production. “The audience will probably be humming music from the phenomenal score by Patrick Neil Doyle. The music lifts the entire experience and really transports us back 2500 years ago to the plains of Troy making us feel that we are there with the great people of legend and that Athene and Zeus and the gods are actually here with us today,” Roberts said.

Patrick Neil Doyle has composed music for film and TV projects including Kepler’s Dream and The Legend of Longwood. He also wrote lyrics for “Noble Maiden Fair” on the Brave soundtrack. He was musical director and music programmer for Kenneth Branagh’s theater season at the Garrick Theatre.

The production of An Iliad garnered some good reviews during its Houston run earlier this month. “Far from feeling feigned or simplistic, the show’s usage of modern parlance and even contemporary humor, so effortlessly woven by Roberts, adds a welcome accessibility to the story that puts us at ease. And it’s just when we’re this comfortable, that the punches to the gut come,” Jessica Goldman said in the Houston Press.

“Roberts triumphantly dominates the stage as he grapples with, tells and reshapes Homer's classic tale,” Robert Donahoo said in The Courier of Montgomery County.

The Houston Chronicle praised Robert’s performance and the play itself. “[It] isn't just a re-reading of old text with some contemporary lines put in. Its structure is a three-act climb toward a total understanding of Homer,” Wei-Huan Chen said.

Houstonia magazine noted the play’s relevance. “There is always a risk of something like this falling into predictable preachiness or self-congratulatory political correctness — but this never happens in An Iliad. Instead, you realize the necessity of theater to contribute to philosophy and politics, with the stage always doing a better job than statistics, talking heads, or policy papers at dramatizing the stakes of something,” the magazine’s Doni Wilson said.

An emotional highlight in the play that many reviewers singled out is a long list of conflicts from the time of the Trojan War up until Aleppo. The Iliad by Homer has many long lists, as the epic poem served as a way to record all the key players in the events. The play updates that idea and uses it to show how the topic of war has carried on through history.

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