Chrisptopher Logue is writing his own interpretation of Home’s Iliad, book by book, piece by piece. A man with no real poetry credentials, and no knowledge of Greek, his interpretation is a semi-modernization based on previous translations.
Here is Slate magazine on some of Logue’s writing:
“Homer’s poetry is, above all else, specific and concrete: Emotion is yoked to action, the gods are persons, and their jealousies have consequences. There is little abstraction or speculation: Here are these men, here are the gods, and here is the war. After reading the Iliad, you needn’t feel philosophically enlightened: Your muscles should be sore. And this is where Logue triumphs. His adventures in the cinema, which seem so silly on the book flap, have served him surprisingly well on the page. His style is relentlessly filmic: the lapses into present tense, the quick cuts, the reliance on montage, the emphasis on the visual. Here, for example, is Hector coming into battle:
See an East African lion
Nose tip to tail tuft ten, eleven feet
Slouching towards you
Swaying its head from side to side
Doubling its pace, its gold-black mane
That stretches down its belly to its groin
Catching the sunlight as it hits
Twice its own length a beat, then leaps
Great forepaws high great claws disclosed
The scarlet insides of its mouth
Parting a roar as loud as sail-sized flames
And lands, slam-scattering the herd.
“This is how Hector came on us.”
Still, if All Day Permanent Red is not Homer, quite, it is nevertheless epic and exciting and possessed of a very terrible beauty. In fact, it’s some of the best poetry being written in English today, and it should be read widely and with great pleasure by anyone still interested in the art of verse.”
The American Conservatory Theater staging of Logue’s War Music is directed by Lillian Groag. There is one thing ACT always does well and that is stunning setting of all their plays, the wonderful Geary Theater is well able to mount these lavish productions.
War Music is no different and begins with a shimmering silk curtain that billows in the wind and then drops to the floor to reveal a group of soldiers sleeping on Romanseque stage in “spoon” position! We are introduced to Achilles who is at odds with King Agamemnon and talking to his mother Thetis about the tyranny and humiliation wreaked by Agamemnon. The conservatory core company of actors plays multiple parts, often moving in rapid succession from Achilles to Paris to Apollo (Jud Williford) or Thetis to Helen to Aphrodite (Renee Augesen)! The frivolity and whimsy of the gods is emphasized by their zany costumes, the entire audience cracking up as a large man in a shiny blue dressing gown turned his back to show us what was written there is sparkly letter – ZEUS!! The backbiting and infighting of these gods caused fates of mortals to change.
A beautiful face enraptured a prince and a wife was abducted by Prince Paris and brought from Sparta to Troy. The honor of Menelaus HAD to be avenged, as all those who had once vied for Helen’s hand were sworn to protect him. Helen herself is seen as a stunning shocking beauty – who says “A world war – for ME?” and lets out a satisfied giggle! The heroic battle between Sparta and Troy raged unabated for 10 long years, as Achilles sulked after a massive disagreement with Agamemnon. Finally his “friend”, lover, companion Patroclus, dons his armor to go fight in Achilles stead. Achilles warns him to not win Troy and to leave Hector for Achilles to slay – as Apollo is his witness! But Patroclus is drunk on victory and keeps on going – with the backdrop of Apollo telling him to stop, enough! But Patroclus only stops after Hectors spear pierces his breast (with yet another godly assist – from Apollo).
The play ends with a devastated Achilles donning silvery armor and being carried aloft to his horse as he prepares to go into battle to kill Hector.
The play is mounted on a lavish scale and is visually stunning. The superb music is composed by John Glover. There is a rousing war dance with flashing lights on strings that go up and down as we hear staccato gunfire.
But in the end War Music is a little bit of a mish mash – with a mixture of gunfire and spears and bows and arrows that leaves one on edge, unable to settle into one time zone. By the time the intermission rolls around the play has picked up pace and become quite interesting. The acting is superb, and the writing is excellent. Top marks to Renee Augesen for playing Aphrodite, Thetis, Helen so well, her looks were exquisite and acting great. Thanks to ACT for bringing us this premiere of Chris Logue’s brilliant poem, and refreshing a classic for us.
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