While the premise of An Iliad is relatively simple — have one actor tell the story of Homer’s epic in as theatrical a manner as possible — the result is anything but. In Ensemble Theatre Company’s excellent new version, John Tufts proved to be a fearless performer capable of wringing every nuance out of a rich and brilliantly conceived script. Thanks to Jonathan Fox’s meticulous direction and some spectacular yet unobtrusive camera work, this live online production managed to transcend that problematic category and set a high standard for the future of the medium.
The anonymous narrator begins his tale modestly, making frequent references to the great narrative he will deliver as something he only remembers in fits and starts. As the show gathers momentum, he gradually comes to admit that he does retain “a lot of it.” What follows is a verbal whirlwind of extraordinary range and depth. Not for nothing does the Iliad enjoy its reputation as the greatest of all works of literature. In a remarkably successful strategy of revision, the authors of An Iliad displace Homer’s epic similes with historical comparisons and lists of subsequent conflicts. This places the work in a context that makes the violence and power of the story all the more effective.