Homer Does Dresden
Written by Bwog Staff
A review of yesterday’s performance of Book I of the Iliad. Because Bwogger Kurt Kanazawa apparently didn’t get enough Homer in Lit Hum.
Yesterday in Low Library, The Aquila Theater Company, which was invited to Columbia by the Center for Core Curriculum and the CU Arts Initiative, presented a staged reading of the first book of the Iliad, and gave an innovative, dramatic interpretation of the book that has helped define Columbia College since the Core’s inception. The realities of ancient Greek war were performed upon a bare stage with only seven actors, seven scripts, four empty bins, minimalist lighting, and a booming stereo system. The audience of Lit Hum and CC students and faculty encircled a large cloth mat in the center of the Rotunda – and while there were a few chairs at the periphery, students with pillows and cushions watched from the edge of the stage.
While the actors held scripts for the entire performance, this didn’t detract from the intense and gripping effect of the show. The first word of dialogue wasn’t spoken until 5 minutes into the performance–as soon as the lights dimmed, 4 soldiers, symbolically dressed in World War II uniforms, marched in a slow-motion formation onto the stage, all while a low pitched battle horn sounded in the background. Four bins were set up to create a low doorway through which soldiers and civilians entered the space, crawling onto the “battlefield.” A riveting charade–involving a burly Agamemnon, the Briseis and other Lit Hum faves–came to a climactic conclusion as the actors screamed “RAGE!”at the top of their lungs. They picked up their scripts at the edge of the stage, introducing Homer’s verse to a World War II-era setting.
The acting was excellent, and slow-motion sequences, as well as the physicality of the performers evoked the disturbing and harrowing atmosphere of war. In the Q & A session that followed, Aquila Artistic Director Peter Meinick addressed this quality of the production. He acknowledged that film, more than any other genre, has shaped our generation, so it is appropriate to employ cinematic elements like dramatic slow-motion to convey the epic urgency of the story. He even speculated that if Homer were alive today, he would be making movies – Meinick believes that the mythic quality our culture associates with film helps achieve a modern-day equivalent of the effect that Homer created through his storytelling.
This won’t be Aquila’s last attempt at making Homer’s millenia-old epic relevant for a modern audience: The company plans to do a complete staging of an abridged
Iliad sometime in 2008.