AN ILIAD at A Noise Within

Theatre review

PHOTO: Eric Pargac | South Pasadena News | Deborah Strang and Karen Hall in "An Iliad" on stage at A Noise Within in Pasadena, California.

My first foray inside a theatre since the shutdown was to see the one person show “An Iliad”, an adaptation by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare based on Homer’s “The Iliad”. There are things we all must “overcome” in these pandemic times as audience members like distancing, not having refreshments served in the lobby and wearing masks throughout your time in the space. But, honestly, all of that fell away as Deborah Strang knocked on the backstage door and took center stage to deliver a tour de force, must-see performance. Strang and Geoff Elliott perform the piece on alternating dates. Both are veteran company actors and no doubt equally fantastic, but on this night, I was privileged to see Strang.

PHOTO: Eric Pargac | South Pasadena News | Deborah Strang in “An Iliad” on stage at A Noise Within

I admit I had my misgivings, fairly or not, about how one person could hold our attention for almost two hours telling us about Greek mythology. I needn’t have worried. Never has the story of Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon et al. been more alive or more timely. From the sheer volume of material to the nuance she gives each character and passion she brings to the storytelling, Strang is astonishing. She is presented simply as “The Poet” and she is compelled, almost against her will, to retell this painful story about the nature of human rage told through the end-stage battles of the nine-year war between the Greeks and Trojans. She is a weary traveler posing her tattered clothed self on a well-worn suitcase to teach, to demonstrate, explain and implore. She is accompanied by an expressive sole cellist, Karen Hall, who powerfully evokes a Greek chorus.

PHOTO: Eric Pargac | South Pasadena News | Karen Hall and Geoff Elliott in “An Iliad” on stage at A Noise Within

The direction by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott is taut and keeps the action, yes action, flowing while giving space and breath to the quiet moments. We are on a seemingly empty stage, where stagelights become firelight, a ratty scarf is a swaddled child, a threadbare coat is a father’s dead son. And Strang brings it all exquisitely to life. Nothing conveys the futility of war more than Strang’s contortions of a mother’s anguish watching the destruction of her son’s corpse in front of her eyes. By the time she recites by name, war after war, from the most ancient up to Afghanistan, we feel the sting when she asks, “do you see?”

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Indeed we do. And thankfully we have storytellers to remind us.

Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission. A Noise Within is located at 3352 East Foothill Blvd in Pasadena, Calif. For tickets and information visit anoisewithin.org, or call the box office at 626-356-3121.

From A Noise Within:

Before being admitted into the theatre, all audience members must provide proof of full vaccination, meaning it has been at least two weeks since the ticket holder’s final vaccine shot. (tickets may be exchanged to a later date or fully refunded to anyone who has already bought tickets or a subscription and who will not be vaccinated by the time of their event.) Masks are required regardless of vaccination status. Social distanced seating is available. ANW will not be offering concessions for their first two productions of the season until they better understand the potential risks patrons may encounter. This includes the elimination of food and drink in the Founders Balcony. Outside food and drink are not permitted in the theatre, but water bottles are allowed and encouraged. Learn more about ANW’s Covid safety policy at anoisewithin.org/covidsafety/