Almost everyone has encountered the omnipresent classic “Iliad” in some shape or form in their lives, a riveting tale of the gods, love, war and treachery. However, the resplendent consequence that stems from the notoriety of this cultural phenomenon is the myriad of unconventional takes produced by artists everywhere. This is a particularly demanding task, with all eyes watching and the level of scrutiny doubled due to such an attempt to change an already beloved piece of art.
Against all odds, playwrights Lisa Peterson and Dennis O’Hara managed to deliver the goods. Peterson and O’Hara wrote a barebones drama, with only two cast members, that is not only entertaining but moving. They were very much rewarded for it, winning the Obie Award, the Lucille Lortel Award, five Cregg Noel Awards (San Diego), the Joseph Jefferson Award (Chicago), the Gregory Award (Seattle) and the Elliot Norton Award (Boston) and receiving Drama Desk nominations for Music and Solo performances.
Peterson and O’Hara’s success and acclaim further stemmed from different directorial takes on their play, shown through the lovely performances by Tarah Flanagan and Eva Scholz-Carlson in the Robert Cohen Theatre at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts here at UC Irvine.
Organized in conjunction with UCI Illuminations, this production played at the Robert Cohen Theatre on the weekend of Nov. 11 and 12, each show starting at 7 p.m. Performed in an intimate space with an ideally small audience, Tarah Flanagan and Eva Scholz-Carlson’s performances are truly exhilarating, an interactive and honorable experience to be a part of. Tarah Flanagan, a veteran of the performing arts, having appeared in works all around the country (particularly New York), co-directs this play with Dr. Andrew Carlson and also plays the sole character of The Poet. She is accompanied by high school student Eva Scholz-Carlson as the Muse, playing the cello in the background. Scholz-Carlson is no normal high-schooler, having participated in her school plays, in Shakespeare for Young Actors and also composed the music for this production.
With a cast only consisting of two members and almost little to no tech, the audience starts playing a huge role in the performance, unofficially becoming a part of the cast by the end of the 100 minute runtime. Flanagan manages to perform non-stop without breaking character for even a second, which is a loaded statement to make because she plays a total of roughly 50 or more characters on stage (which she mentioned to be a great opportunity that doesn’t come around every day, especially for female artists).
As The Poet narrates the story of the Iliad, Flanagan transitions smoothly from the vulnerable position of the narrator (The Poet) into the more meaty characters like Achilles and Agamemnon. While doing the above, she managed to constantly interact with the audience and feed off their energy.
Another key element that adds to all the stirring emotions in the room is the score. Composer Scholz-Carlson talked about her process of creating the music and combining it with the themes of the show. She experimented with all the unique and varying sounds she could produce using her cello. She also prepared some melodies to work in for the heavy storytelling moments with Flanagan.
This level of intricate collaboration is really what makes this production the captivating work of art that it is. From Robert Fagle’s published translation of Homer’s epic to the translation being adapted into this production by Peterson and O’Hara, at the end of it all, it is just the two, Flanagan and Scholz-Carlson on-stage, performing, acting and playing their hearts out.