by Michael Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant contributor
A one man show is a lot like eating an apple. If the first bite is mushy and tasteless, you’re stuck with it. It’s not going to get any better. The Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of “An Iliad” is a crisp, clean bite. More than that, its ambrosia; it is the food of the gods.
The one man show rests on the shoulders of one performer, Teagle F. Bougere (always use the middle initial to distinguish him from all the other Teagle Bourgere’s out there). Luckily, Bougere has broad shoulders.
“An Iliad” was written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, with a little help from Homer.
Teagle F. Bougere as The Poet in AN ILIAD. Photo: Pittsburgh Public Theater.
Homer is known by one name (like Cher). He may not have even been a real person, but the Iliad is attributed to the storyteller, real or fictitious. Peterson is a real, she is the former resident director to Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum. O’Hare is also a real, but he is best known for his fictitious identities such as the Vampire King of Mississippi, Russell Edgington, in television’s “True Blood,” and Dr. Sevard from the Oscar-nominated “Dallas Buyers Club.”
The playwriting duo worked from Robert Fagles translation of the Iliad, an epic poem of the horrors of war, written with lyrical beauty. Metaphors spill out like the blood of a freshly-stabbed Trojan soldier.
The show is directed by Jesse Berger, Artistic Director of NYC’s Red Bull Theater, and known to Pittsburgh audiences as the director of “Circle Mirror Transformation” and some other Public shows. Drachmas to donuts, “An Iliad” will be a defining moment in his career.
“An Iliad” is a story of war and remembrance. It’s a story of heroes and villains. Actually, it’s the story of the Olympian gods playing chess with living pieces. All the mortals suffer with trauma and grief, pain and death. The gods are most definitely crazy.
It begins on a near-barren stage. It looks like the Production Stage Manager, Fred Noel, and Assistant Stage Manager, Kelly Haywood, weren’t finished constructing the set. The Poet (Bougere) trod on a, dare I say, Spartan stage. After a while, the seemingly random location, a dilapidated warehouse, becomes an integral centerpiece.
Before he recants his tale, he invokes the Muses, and bids them to aid him in the telling of his story. After seeing the entirety of the play, it can be easily assumed that the Muses smiled upon him.
The Iliad is an epic poem, a story about the final days of the nine-year Trojan War. The protagonist does not take sides. He talks of heroes both Trojan and Greek; the virtuous Achilles and righteous Hector.
Our poet does not speak in dactylic hexameter, but the modern cadence of an American storyteller like Spalding Gray. This version of the Iliad is more Moth than myth. It’s both funny and tragic in a way all good stories are.
There is a long moment when the Poet recites the names of wars fought around the globe. It’s a somber diatribe about the human condition. It seems to go on for far too long, and then you realize, that’s exactly the point. Wars go on and on, from the sea of Troy to the French-Indian War, the Korean War, to Afghanistan and back again; a continual battle drum beating rhythmically as steady, constant and unknowable as the human heart.
The play is history and literature combined with masterful stagecraft. It is a stunning performance. Bougere is amazing, transforming into warriors, kings, gods and goddesses before your eyes. His Achilles is a commanding force of nature; his Priam is grief-stricken old man; his Hermes is fleet and fey. It is a song that should be sung in schools, educational and dramatic; a great work for the ages.
Go to “An Iliad” and let the Poet take you on a sensual odyssey.
“An Iliad” runs from April 6 at the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA.
For more information, tickets and pricing contact the Pittsburgh Public Theater at www.ppt.org