Theatrical Outfit is opening its new season with the Atlanta premiere of “An Iliad,” by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, based on Homer’s epic story of the Trojan Wars, “The Iliad,” translated by Robert Fagles. The play is directed by Matt Torney, the Outfit’s new artistic director, and it features an incredible performance by Lee Osorio as the Poet—the play’s sole actor. “An Iliad” will run through Oct. 10.
Mr. Torney says that he and the company “looked for epic stories that could meet the times we are living in and help bring some meaning to the chaos.” So he reached back nearly 3000 years to the beginning of Western literature to a story saturated by war and at the same time an inchoate longing for peace.
And the play asks, especially, why is humankind so fascinated by war; and have we made any progress since then? The program notes that “there is a tragic significance to presenting this play mere days after the end of Afghanistan, American’s longest war.”
The playwrights’ genius lies not in the Poet’s merely recounting the legendary story of Achilles, the greatest of the Greek warriors, and Hector, King Priam, Patroclus and others (including the gods!), but in the use of stunning flash forwards to wars we all know about.
The Greeks had a saying: “The boys throw stones at the frogs in jest, but the frogs die in earnest.” Ponder that a bit.
At this point you may be thinking, Well, all this will be tedious, with only one actor recounting the heroics of the Greeks. No, gentle reader, we just indicated that the Poet quickly morphs: His stories and comments transform into a moving universality about the human race and its often sad proclivities toward war and mayhem; and he waxes wistfully and philosophically about where on earth we think we’re headed.
Do you know about the famous love between the great Achilles and his friend Patroclus? “Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women,” said the Biblical David about Jonathan. That’s all I’ll say about this crucial part of the story; the Poet will tell you the rest.
It’s time to talk about actor Lee Osorio, who plays the Poet. (There is actually one other performer—The Muse, played by Deisha Oliver, who plays the cello—exquisitely–at stage right. She becomes a vital part of the ambience.) I knew Mr. Osorio was a major talent when I saw him play Shakespeare’s “Richard II” in 2018 at the Shakespeare Tavern (I think he won a Best Actor Suzi Award—Atlanta’s highest accolade—for that role). He was moving, funny, tragic, magnetic—all in the same performance. We’re talking real giftedness here.
Then I saw his Hamlet, at the same theatre. He was brilliant in this greatest of all roles.
So it comes as no surprise to this viewer that we’re fortunate that “An Iliad” rests in his hands. He is onstage, alone, for just over 90 minutes. He has an expressive face, keen intelligence, wit, and most important—an empathetic heart for the human race. It’s all there, including perfect clarity of diction and gradations of power. And he has several costume changes, rather sly and subtle, all onstage!
In addition, we offer kudos and thanks to scenic designer Lizz Horvath, lighting designer Ben Rawson, costume designer Alan Yeong, co-sound designer and composer Mikaela Fraser and Rashaad Pierre, and properties designer Nick Battaglia. The theatre is truly a collaborative art form.
Usually, I don’t care much for one character plays because either the play or the actor isn’t good enough. And naturally, we prefer to see two or more actors playing together. But there are exceptions; “An Iliad” is one.
For tickets and information, visit theatricaloutfit.org.