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Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

An Iliad
Lantern Theater Company
Review by Cameron Kelsall | Season Schedule

Also see Cameron's recent review of Buyer & Cellar and Rebecca's recent review of Working

Liz Filios as The Muse and Peter DeLaurier
Photo by Mark Garvin
Overtly political theater always runs the risk of trying its audience's patience. That is the unfortunate case for Denis O'Hare and Lisa Peterson's An Iliad—a loose adaptation of Homer's epic poem, receiving its Philadelphia premiere at Lantern Theater Company—which often feels longer and more lugubrious than the war it depicts.

This is not to say that the undertaking isn't admirable. O'Hare—a renowned actor who appeared in the world premiere production—and Peterson aim to blend the Bardic tradition from which Homer comes and the contemporary theatrical monologue to examine the sad and cyclical nature of war. All wars are alike, all tragedies unfathomable—at least so sings The Poet (Peter DeLaurier), who tells the audience near the beginning of the play that every time he sings this particular song, he hopes it will be the last.

It quickly becomes clear that O'Hare and Peterson have not striven for historicity. The text is colloquial. A mélange of four-letter words, casual utterances, and contemporary slang pepper passages delivered in classical Greek and blank verse. This has a jarring effect on the listener—more so, perhaps, than the blatant attempts to cleave the Trojan War to contemporary military conflicts, which often feel heavy-handed.

Perhaps the play's chief problem, in this respect, is that it does not go far enough in its didacticism. The majority of the two-hour intermissionless monologue is devoted to a fairly faithful (in narrative, if not language) retelling of the exploits of Agamemnon, Achilles, and Hector. The modern references are too fleeting to make the impact that the authors want, and are rarely as powerful as they should be. When The Poet recites a laundry list of contemporary military conflicts near the end of the show, it feels more like a party trick (or worse, like Bubba telling Forrest Gump all the different ways to cook shrimp) than a naked illumination of the banality of battle. The audience is left with an epic poem largely stripped of its poetry, married to what often feels like a class presentation from a precocious ninth-grader.

This is not the say that Lantern's production is without merits. DeLaurier—who looks like the scruffy love child of Kevin Kline and Mark Rylance—holds the stage with an appropriate mixture of authority and fragility. He is supported by the talented actress and musician Liz Filios, a literal representation of The Muse that was added for this production. Although the near-constant musical underscoring occasionally grates the nerves, Filios is a captivating stage presence.

M. Craig Getting's production drags in places, and Shannon Zuna's lighting design works overtime to create the mood the text fails to supply, but Meghan Jones' rubble-strewn thrust stage and Natalia de la Torre's weathered costumes strike the right balance for the story.

Many will find An Iliad an enlightening parable, but others (like me) will end up rooting for the Trojan Horse to appear so they can go home.

Lantern Theater Company's production of An Iliad continues at St. Stephen's Theater (10th and Ludlow Streets, Philadelphia) through Sunday, December 11, 2016. Tickets ($15-39) can be purchased online at or by calling 215-829-0395.