An Iliad @ NYTW: A (late) Response

An Iliad (Denis O’Hare, Stephen Spinella)     

Date of Attendance – Saturday, March 3rd – Closed

I’m partial to a good one-man show, and before anyone gets confused, Denis O’Hare and Stephen Spinella performed this one-man show in repertory, meaning that they switched off night to night, performance to performance. The word was that the two actor’s performances were significantly different. The program note states that having “the two actors alternate as The Poet…uncannily echoes the ancient Greek tradition of the Rhapsodes–performers who memorized epic poetry and competed with each other at festivals.” I wish I could say that I had a chance to see both actors, but alas, I was only able to see Mr. O’Hare’s performance. Thankfully, I was able to see the play at all.

Now, as luck would have it, I happened to be sitting in the same audience as a good friend of mine, an actor and artist. We didn’t find this out until a phone call afterwards. Naturally, I asked her what she thought about it, and she told me that she was already going in with a handicap. The stakes are always way lower for the actor in a one-man show. He is the impetus and the receiver of all and any dramatic content in the show. He is his own protagonist and antagonist. It feels contrived and there’s very little to commend or applaud in the show. She wasn’t  moved in the slightest, while I cried three times during the show.

For me, one man shows are where it is at! I’ve never read any Spaulding Gray, though I probably should. The act of one man on a stage who is able to keep the audience rapt, interested, and still pulled into the throes of good drama is most commendable and damn entertaining. Denis O’Hare did not disappoint. Most people will know him from American Horror Story and True Blood along with a host of cameos and supporting roles in a ton of movies. But my god, does the man’s acting muscle stretch and sing for the stage.

He comes out and begins an incantation in Greek. He’s dressed like a hobo, floppy hat and oversized brown coat. His grey sweater vest is moth-eaten, and he carries a suitcase containing a huge tumbler of bourbon. The stage is bare and spacious with only a stairwell in one corner and a catwalk. We’re in a bar, he tells us. He tells us a lot. He recounts the tales, describes the Trojan landscape, and embodies all the major players, giving them all a voice. Just as there are three tones and modes of language – the incantatory Greek, its formal English, and a more conversational tone – there are two arenas and sources for conflict. The first is the actual conflict between Greece and Troy, and the secondary conflict is the one that goes on internally for The Poet — can he tell this tragic story again? At various points during the show, he takes swigs of bourbon and calls on the muses to help him get through this story, that after all, continues in war after war, long after The Poet stops performing.


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