An Iliad

 Sing, Goddess, of the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
the accursed rage that brought great suffering to the Achaeans.

These cold winter nights are made for storytelling, for gathering in warm places and listening fervently to oft-told tales.

At Studio Theatre, we happily cede the floor to actor Scott Parkinson, who brings to fiery life Homer’s 2800-years-young epic poem in a new interpretation of “The Iliad” by director Lisa Peterson and actor Denis O’Hare. The adaptation, titled An Iliad, more precisely illuminates the ancient poem—and neatly excises the inventory lists of ships, soldiers and casualties—rather than trying to improve upon it.

Scott in The Iliad at Studio Theatre

Scott Parkinson in The Iliad (Photo: Theodore Wolff)

In this one-man show directed by David Muse, Mr. Parkinson serves as narrator and participant (accompanied by mournful viola strains performed by musician Rebecca Landell), playing numerous roles ranging from meddling gods and goddesses to Trojan War heroes such as Achilles, Hector and Agamemnon. He ambles into the set, an artful jumble of backstage detritus, including a ghost light, wearing hobo clothes and carrying an old suitcase like someone who just wandered in from a production of Waiting for Godot.

He begins by reciting the first lines of “The Iliad” in Greek, pausing to remark “Back then, oh, I could sing it, every battle!” Perhaps “The Iliad” is the paramount, most enduring battle epic of them all—the telling of how the all-consuming rage of Achilles tore through the Trojan War, consuming noble Hector and destroying Troy and its inhabitants in its wake.

Achilles’ fury, Hector’s valor and the great warrior prowess of both of them run like silken thread through An Iliad, which details the major skirmishes as well as the small, telling moments that reveal just how tormenting a long-running siege can be. The Greeks and the Trojans have been at it for 9 years—Trojan prince Paris stole the beautiful Helen and the Greeks want her back—and both sides are beaten down but still going strong.

They want it to end, but neither side is willing to back off. Pride, or hubris, as the Greeks call it, is the downfall of many a man and empire. The war gets boiled down to two warriors—the Trojan prince Hector and Achilles, the Greek demi-god who wears armor made by the god Hephaestus himself. Achilles’ wrath is the stuff of gods—destructive, unfeeling, and often arbitrary. He personifies the blood lust that intoxicates so many soldiers in the heat of battle, yet his rage is also intimate.

Achilles returns to warfare after a beef with the chief Agamemnon not out of duty, but revenge. His beloved companion Patroclus, wearing Achilles’ armor as a ruse, is killed by Hector and Achilles’ rage cannot be cooled. He turns the battlefield into a bloodbath and then turns his sights onto Hector, whom he slays and then commits the ultimate indecency by piercing Hector’s heels through and tying him to a chariot and dragging his corpse round and round in the dust for 10 days.

The gods, who in this telling can’t seem to keep their aquiline noses out of anything, once again intervene, this time the god Hermes helping Nestor’s father King Priam meet with Achilles and plead for his son’s body. In Homer’s work, since the audiences already knew what happened in the Trojan War, the poem ends with Hector’s proper burial and funeral games. The Trojan Horse, the destruction of Troy, Achilles’ death by poisoned arrow in his vulnerable heel—those are tales for another time.

Even though An Iliad espouses an anti-war sentiment, the show crackles to primal life when Mr. Parkinson describes the battles, the bloodshed, the myriad ways in which the unfortunate soldiers were impaled or disemboweled by weapons. His rapturous, escalating description of Achilles’ armor is a high point, as is his hushed recitation of wars from antiquity all the way up to Syria.

The deviations from Homer are not always successful. The lapsing into street slang and mincing interpretations of women and metrosexuals often come off as cutesy and jarring. The first time Mr. Parkinson intones a list of wars it is haunting, but the second time he recounts battle-torn cities, it is overkill.

An Iliad
Closes January 13, 2013
The Studio Theatre
1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
1 hour, 30 minutes without intermission
Tickets: $39 – $61
Wednesdays thru Sundays

Hewing close to the source material yields the greatest pleasures. You cannot help but shiver no matter how many times you hear about Hector’s tender moment with his wife and small son, who first cries and then laughs at the sunlight glinting off his father’s fearsome bronze helmet—a scene that echoes horribly later on when the baby is hoisted up by a Greek soldier and he giggles at the bright helmet, remembering his father, before the soldier flings him from the tower onto the stone ground below.

At one point in the play, Mr. Parkinson’s Poet ruefully notes. “Every time I sing this song, I hope it is the last time.” Not a chance. Homer’s epic suggests that war is in our blood and battle the bloodletting that purges our rage—until the next time.


An Iliad by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare . Based on Homer’s “The  Iliad”., translated by Robert Fagles . Directed by David Muse . Starring Scott Parkinson (The Poet) . Featuring Rebecca Landell (Musician) . Luciana Stecconi (Set Design), Laree Lentz (Costume Design), Colin K. Bills (Lighting Design), Eric Shimelonis (Sound Design/Composition), Adrien-Alice Hansel (Dramaturg)

Want more?

Iliad’s director and performer talk with DCTS

Other reviews

Jennifer Perry . BroadwayWorld
Sophie Gilbert . Washingtonian
(uncredited) . BrightestYoungThings
Gary Tischler . Georgetowner
Chris Klimek . City Paper
Doug Rule . MetroWeekly
Nelson Pressley . Washington Post
Jennifer Perry . BroadwayWorld
Barbara Mackay . Washington Examiner
Mark Dewey . DCMetroTheaterArts
Robert Michael Oliver . MDTheatreGuide
Alexis Victoria Hauk . DCist


Jayne Blanchard About Jayne Blanchard

Jayne Blanchard has been a critic covering DC theater for the past 10 years, most recently for the Washington Times. Prior to that, she was a theater critic in the Twin Cities and a movie reviewer in the Washington area. She is a proud resident of Baltimore.



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