On and around the stage since age 7, Phil has been on nearly every side of it, both professional and amateur. He has been involved in over 100 productions, from major corporate and government events to playing an on-stage prop in a walk-on role.
2700 years and nothing has changed. 2700 and wars still rage. 2700 years and a single man can hold a stage, and with a muse, enlighten a deranged delight in a lonely phrase.
Since Tuesday night, the opening of An Iliad, I have been beside myself with anger and grief and resentment and rage and angst and confusion. A complicated clutter of emotions, all because I was forced to reconcile how simple we humans are. We’ve changed so little, but done so much.
I was forced to laugh at and enjoy war, carnage. Inspired to recognize how much we all crave a little power or violence or ego or greed. I was forced and inspired into all this while also being reminded how terrible it all is. Yet, it never preached. It never cheaply dove headfirst into the message, as I’ve watched countless plays do.
An Iliad is the Best Theatre Offering in the UAE Since… Ever.
An Iliad is perfection – or as close as you can have to it on stage. Denis O’Hare (True Blood, American Horror Story) shrinks a 700-seat theater down to a micro-blackhole in a pin-point on stage. My attention could not escape, my eyes could not divert, and the room closed in around him. Until he made it explode to the size of the heavens themselves. He controlled the room with the power of the gods of whose stories he told.
To alter a perspective so much, both during and after a performance, is the hallmark of an exceptional piece of theatre. To make me hate myself, yet thoroughly enjoy the experience, that’s something only the stage – or a cold-hearted ex-girlfriend – can achieve.
The piece is undeniably about war, but arguably more so about how we, humans, find a little war within everything. And, at this point, I may sound more like I’m filing a book report than writing a theatre review, but the problem is, I got so engrossed in the piece that I can seemingly only report on its effects. It was a single cohesive piece with few, if any, imbalances and no blemishes.
Within the space of half of a year, the UAE has seen a triumphant musical production at near perfection (Les Miserables) and now this… an astonishing, contemporary theatre piece at practical perfection.
Full Interview with Lisa Peterson
Keeping It Fresh
One might wonder how a 2700 year old Homeric epic can be kept fresh. Somehow it is. It is a brilliant fusion of contemporary and ancient. A tradition of oral storytelling meets a massive stage. Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare have adapted the story and written it for a modern audience. The words flow, pound, stomp and jump in a modern vernacular with the occasional punch of Ancient Greek, a beautiful language seemingly made for telling a story.
In the post show Q&A, Lisa spoke about how in ancient times, a single performer would recite the piece often while playing a musical insturment. In this case, they chose to separate the two, with a bassist performing the musical accompaniment. The two were harmonious and syncronized in such a way that it still felt like one performer. The bassist should have been mentioned sooner, because he was absolutely incredible, playing at a level rarely seen.
The Red Theater Shines Again
The effects of lighting and sound are kept simple and practical, but show off the technical achievements of the Red Theater. The natural acoustics of the space combined with the subtlely amplified audio of the instruments showed why this is the best venue in the region. I do not mince words here. It is the best venue in the country and likely the region.
Don’t make an excuse. Go see An Iliad. The tickets are free. They may have been exhausted by this point, but NYUAD Arts Center has been very good about getting everyone in the standby line into a seat.
I have nominated this for our first two-hump award. (We award “humps” like Michelin stars. One is difficult to get, two has never happened yet.) But the challenge is that our rules state at least two Camel Stub team members need to unanimously agree on the rating. I only hope we get someone else from the team there tonight to see it. This deserves all the praise it can get.
Phil’s first reaction after the show: