30th Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival: ‘An Iliad’ for modern times
It’s “An Iliad” like you’ve never seen before.
Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival veteran Greg Wood takes on the epic tale of the Trojan War on a nearly empty stage and accompanied only by a single musician.
PSF presents the Lehigh Valley premiere of “An Iliad,” 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, July 20 - Aug. 1, Main Stage, Labuda Center for the Performing Arts, DeSales University, Center Valley, Upper Saucon Township.
Wood first saw the groundbreaking solo version of the classic Greek poem seven years ago and has been “living with this show in my head” ever since.
The performance piece was adapted by Obie Award-winning director Lisa Peterson and Tony Award-winning actor Denis O’Hare from Robert Fagles’ lauded translation of Homer’s “The Iliad.”
“It was probably one of the most amazing evenings of theater I ever had,” Wood says in a phone interview. “The whole thing was absolutely mesmerizing and I knew I had to do it.”
Wood is not only performing, but producing and directing the show, which features Philadelphia musician Liz Fileos.
“This is one of most exciting things I’ve done,” Wood says. “When you get to wear all three hats, it’s pretty thrilling.”
“An Iliad” was originally slated for the 2020 PSF, but the festival was canceled because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shutdown.
The premise of the one-person show is that an ancient poet is doomed by the Greek gods to tell the story of the Trojan War to anyone who will listen until all of humanity abandons its propensity for violence.
Wood describes the theater piece as epic and intimate at the same time.
“‘The Iliad’ was originally an oral recitation of a poem by one person from memory,” says Wood. “That’s what’s so great about it.”
As he enacts the stories of larger-than-life figures like Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon and Helen of Troy, Wood says, “This fascinating story becomes really personal.”
As the storyteller, who may or may not be Homer, Wood goes back and forth between contemporary and poetic language.
“An Iliad,” which takes place in the present, is a modern-day retelling in which Wood’s poet and Fileos’ musician deliver a visceral recollection of heroes, Greek gods and humanity’s attraction to destruction and chaos.
“It’s written by an actor [O’Hare], so there’s a rhythm to it,” Wood says. ”It’s so much fun to say.
“This show is everything theater does best. It’s in-your-face, psychological, emotional, passionate and just wonderfully put together.”
Wood lauds Fileos’ work, saying, “The audience has to believe these two people have been together for 1,000 years.”
Wood notes there is very little in the way of a set.
“I wanted the back wall exposed,” he says. “The script advises doing it in an empty space, even suggesting a theater that’s been closed. How apropos is that?”
He says the space is instead “carved out” with light, and with a few small set pieces.
“It’s a big space to play with and we use all the space,” he says.
Wood says he knows he will be emotional when the show starts.
“For the first time in a year and a half, I will be standing on a stage,” he says. “It’s a really good feeling.
“It’s been challenging for the arts. I think it’s going to be a different world since there’s been a little shaking down.
“I’m very excited to be back and I’m cautiously optimistic.”
“An Iliad” contains strong language and is recommended for ages 13 and older.
There will be limited-capacity seating and social distancing in the theater. Those attending must wear face masks in Labuda and during the performance.
“An Iliad” will be available for streaming, 8 p.m. July 27 to Aug. 1.
Tickets: www.pashakespeare.org; 610-282-9455
“Curtain Rises” is a column about the theater, stage shows, the actors in them and the directors and artists who make them happen. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, firstname.lastname@example.org