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Best of Olympia 2020: An Illiad

Writer's Pick: Best One-Man Show

Scott Douglas. Photo credit: Brad Rinke

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James O'Barr is producing and directing and Scott Douglas is acting in An Illiad, an intense, captivating and intelligent one-man play about the Trojan War and, ultimately, every war since, written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare. All the ancient gods and warriors are there, including Agamemnon, Achilles, King Priam, Paris and Menelaus - all told by a character simply known as "the Poet" (Douglas).

Nancy Curtis, a musician called "the Muse," plays flute and other instruments. "The music ranges from folk songs to short moody interludes between the lines to a flat-out free-jazz duet with the Poet. James worked with me on my onstage character (though I'm not really an actor)," Curtis explained.  

An Iliad combines the classic hexameter verse of Homer's epic poem, from which it is derived, with modern speech, and tells the story of Agamemnon's battle with Achilles and Achilles' battle with Hector. And it tells much more than that. It tells the tales of every war ever fought. The gods have forced The Poet (ostensibly Homer) to sing the story of the war endlessly down through the ages.

Best known as a Shakespearean actor and founding member of Animal Fire Theatre, Douglas is powerful and hypnotic in these multiple roles, which demand of him a heavy load of memorization that is surely beyond the abilities of most actors.

"For me, this has been an extraordinary opportunity and challenge, academically, emotionally, and physically," Douglas said. "I strive to give these ancient characters life, to portray their traits, noble and flawed, but also to give them a modern voice relevant to our times. The beauty and the tragedy of this piece of art is how applicable this most ancient tale remains, as we march into conflict after conflict. But even more important is the portrayal of Achilles as he lets go of his rage, the personal redemption of which we all are, and must be, capable."

"An Iliad was written as the response of theater people to the unlawful U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003," O'Barr said. "As a military veteran, I protested in the streets. Sixteen years later, 52 years after my return from Vietnam, and 100 years after the end of WWI and the death, one week before the Armistice, of the great English war poet Wilfred Owen, I hear Owen speaking to us throughAn IliadOwen said, ‘All a poet can do today is warn.'The Poetof An Iliad, recounting the waste of war, whether in Troy, at Verdun, in Hiroshima or Kabul, pleads with us, ‘Do you see?'" 

An Illiad was first performed for Lauren Love's acting class at South Puget Sound Community College, and has since then been performed at Olympia Family Theater and at the Olympia Friends Meeting House. O'Barr and Douglas plan additional performances, time and place to be determined.

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