Tales don’t get much older than Homer’s Iliad. It told of the epic war between Greece and Troy, in the famous Helen of Troy fable that includes the Trojan Horse and Achilles (and his famed tendon) as well as many mentions of Greek gods and goddesses interfering with the outcome. It is a tale almost as old as time.
An Iliad, now showing at N.C. Stage Company, is a modern variation of the tale, with an intimate approach, giving us a lone poet and a piano player set among the bare stage of a theater. Tables, lighting instruments, a ladder and various tools are scattered. Only work lights illuminate the area as the weary and rugged poet enters. Once he has his bearings, he launches into telling the audience about heroes, gods and the frustrations and failures that accompany the triumphs of war in all of its senselessness.
Willie Repoley of Immediate Theatre Project stands alone on the stage, as the poet. He says that he was there, and that he has been there throughout time, watching as the ugliness of war spread and repeated time and time again. He draws parallels to all battles and this tale of ancient war between Greece and Troy. As the lone actor on stage, Repoley traverses the entire emotional spectrum, taking the audience on a journey through the minds and moods of all of the major players in the story. He is mesmerizing as a bushy-bearded wiseman who has seen it all and has seen too much. It is a crowning performance for any actor, and Repoley is exceptional.
Early into the performance, a lone piano player enters and sits at an upright piano sitting innocently enough in the theater space. Jan Powell, a seasoned professional composer and musical director and arranger, lends his fine-tuned skills to the production. He composed the music, which plays as haunting and emotionally resonate accents to the storytelling. It compliments Repoley’s performance, especially during the darkly ominous chords of a hypnotic moment when Repoly begins to list every single war that has happened from Troy to modern times. It goes on and on, relentlessly droning, with each chord sending chills through the audience members, who are almost holding their breath in this powerful passage. One audience member wept softly once the list concluded.
Hans Meyer’s direction is focused and elegantly nuanced, and Burke Brown’s lighting design adds just the right tones, as the work light setting imperceptibly fades into more traditional theater lighting when the story begins to ramp up.
An Iliad runs through Sunday, April 19 at N.C. Stage Company with performances Wednesday-Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. $14-$32.