Can the Iliad speak in compelling ways to a contemporary American audience? Can it feel relevant in our modern society? Is telling a story still the basis of theatrical presentation? These questions seem to be at the heart of the project of Kings: The Siege of Troy, based on a translation of Homer's Iliad by Christopher Logue. The project here is commendable; this is a story that, when told, can still feel resonant with our own times. This production, however, does not go much beyond just telling the story, diminishing the potential overall impact of the work. Kings: The Siege of Troy presents Books I & II of Homer's Iliad. In order to convey this story, two actors play all of the necessary characters while also providing narration. J. Eric Cook and Dana Watkins jump back and forth between roles, shaping all of the events leading up to and including the Greeks' attack on Troy.
Both performers are more than admirable. They give impressive tour-de-force performances, fluidly gliding from one persona to the next. Every character has a unique personality and even a specific inflection in his or her voice. Despite these strong character choices, it is often quite difficult to recall which characters are meant to be on stage at any given moment. The transitions are so quick that it is easy to lose track of where we are in the narrative, even if the viewer is already familiar with the story. Those unfamiliar with the major plot points of the tale might find themselves mystified by the on stage events.
The strongest moments of the piece are those which are fully staged. The minimal use of physicality is both well-executed and expertly orchestrated by Jim Milton. The lighting, by Heather Sparling, also does wonders to enhance the scene. The specific mood of each situation and locale is indicated by the production choices. The weakest moments are those in which the actors speak their own narration, stating "he said" or "she turned," etc. In these moments, the story feels like it is only being told and not shown, moving a bit too far from the realm of the theatrical into the realm of the descriptive.
Both actors spend the entirety of the play on stage. This feat alone is an action worthy of praise: it is an intense and demanding piece. The stage pictures are well-composed and balanced nicely; the two actors bring great presence to the large stage space that they must fill with just their bodies and voices. The costumes do little to enhance the stage pictures, however. The two men wear black slacks and blue button-down shirts, which give the sense of more of a business setting than either a warzone or the turmoil of the homefront. The attire reads neither as a neutral template on which each character is painted nor as a clear, specific production choice meant to bring out an aspect of the play's meaning.
This translation of the Iliad is worth more attention. It is both poetic and poignant. As a play, however, the piece perhaps needs more visual storytelling techniques and fewer narrative devices. The play's climactic final moments are powerful and build tension masterfully. Unfortunately, there is perhaps too much lead-up to those events to allow these final moments their fullest emotional punch.
Still, Homer is always worth another listen. As the Greeks mobilize to besiege Troy, the contemporary resonances of this story ring out, making the show a worthwhile dramatic experience. Kings provides an intriguing new way to confront this time-honored material. The production takes theater back to its storytelling roots, with mixed, but often compelling, results.