On Stage

An Iliad

Summer Rep’s swan song


What: An Iliad

Where: Maritime Heritage Park, 500 W. Holly St.


WHEN: 7:30pm Thurs.-Sat., Aug. 29-31

Cost: Free

Info: http://www.sylviacenterforthearts.org

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with the Sylvia Center’s epic Summer Rep season, which kicked off its five-play run of ancient Greek plays with Briseis June 20 and ends this weekend with free outdoor performances of An Iliad at Maritime Heritage Park.

When actor and artistic director Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao first tackled Lisa Peterson’s and Denis O’Hare’s contemporary adaptation of Homer’s The Iliad in August 2017, the one-man show about the horrors of war on the battlefields of Troy and beyond had many audience members—including me—in tears and contemplating how the lessons contained within the timeless tale spanned the centuries.

“This play has a very visceral message about war and its human costs,” Hergenhahn-Zhao says. “It’s the actor’s job to make the audience feel that, and so I have to feel it each night. I was already a lifelong pacifist, so the message is right up my alley, but the way the script builds the human cost up in layers is a heavy thing. I do wish the lessons didn’t need to be repeated, and it feels almost futile rallying against the warring nature of human beings.”

Portraying a poetic narrator who must embody the bloodlust of battle between the warriors Achilles and Hector and bring to life tricky gods, grieving widows and deadly prophecies isn’t easy. But when asked if the play was harder to pull off under the summer sun and stars, Hergenhahn-Zhao says he’s been pleasantly surprised that it translates so well outside, even with distracting elements like squawking seagulls, trains, wildlife and rowdy passersby. 

Even though he brushes off the feat of what it takes to memorize lines for a 90-minute, one-man play as being an “actor’s first job” that “doesn’t require any grand tricks,” anyone watching him onstage this weekend would do well to remember that once the text is learned, the true magic happens. And if memory serves, there’s plenty of that to be found in An Iliad.

Although he’ll be alone onstage as day turns to dusk Aug. 29-31, Hergenhahn-Zhao makes it clear the past few months have required many people to bring this Summer Rep season to its swan song.

“About 70 people were involved in putting up those shows, and our summer program keeps expanding,” he says. “We already have plans for a similar five-show season next summer based around the works of William Shakespeare. Though probably not actually Shakespeare plays.

“I have had a love for the Greek plays and myths since I was about 8 years old. I read The Iliad when I was 10, and Homer’s stories are in my bones. It’s felt very right doing this play; every once in a while you land on something that is the exact right fit. I will miss this one. Maybe in another few years it will ride again. In the meantime, three more times ‘round the walls of Troy.”

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