From the moment you enter the Pittsburgh Public Theater, it is clear that the evening’s performance won’t be a casual night of theater. While the Public’s stage is a three quarter thrust and always thoughtfully used, for An Iliad, the set transforms the theater as I’ve never seen. You don’t enter a theater, rather you enter some extraordinary space and you wonder what will happen next. What happens, is one of the best pieces of theater I’ve seen at the Public.

The story of the Trojan War has been told many times, and most have encountered it in some way, though details may be unknown to many. But the main character, The Poet, paints a story full of visual images and emotion that keeps the audience captivated from start to end. In last season’s Thurgood, the character spoke to the audience, but this was different. We were not just some generic audience the character addressed. Here there was no real separation between stage and audience,and The Poet quickly created an intimacy between story teller and listener.

iliad023The set and lighting design are always stellar at the Public and this was no exception. You could easily argue that the set lacks much color, yet it is a plethora of textures that is so beautiful. Spot lights are strategically used, so that The Poet shares the area from time to time with his larger than life shadow accentuating the story he tells.

Two pieces of the story were especially moving to me standing out from what is a captivating story from start to finish. As The Poet recites a litany of wars from then until now, I experienced an overwhelming sadness for the meaningless death and loss caused by war. Suddenly this new telling of a centuries old story connected a mythic past to a visceral present and prompts you to wonder why it is, we romanticize war and killing. There is beauty in the story, but where is the beauty in the death and loss really? The other amazing moment for me comes as The Poet explains how Achilles determines where to land his spear to kill Hector, using his fingers to indicate the small and vulnerable spot above the chest plate below the neck. Masterful acting and perfect words pint a vivid image that is strong, masculine , and even sensuous. How easily you could see the spear’s inevitable entry!

I might lose my gay card if I don’t address the potentially gay twist in the story. From the very beginning, historians, artists, dreamers and others have suggested Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. In this story, they are called friends, and the only allusion to a physical intimacy comes when The Poet shares that Patroclus holds Achilles to soothe him. But to ask if Achilles and Patroclus were gay is to ask the wrong question. This amazing story, much like the beautiful love story of Jonathan and David found in the Hebrew Scriptures demonstrates the depth of emotional love two men may feel for one another, and that sense of love, attachment, devotion, and commitment should be celebrated no matter what identities are attached to it.

This matters in a big way, and as a guy just recently legally married, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. My partner and I have been together for 17 years even though we have been married only a week. After a while, the physical part of the relationship changes. It isn’t that sex is unimportant, but different, and other things become more important. Contentment in the relationship has much to do with a sense of trust in the deep emotional bonds that exist. Yet, for the homo haters, their obsession is entirely focused on what two guys might do in bed. That depth of  commitment is entirely invisible to them. In other words, from the earliest of times, brave men who have loved other men have been accepted and heralded as heroes, champions and leaders, why not now?

Pittsburgh Public Theater An Iliad

Do not miss this riveting piece of theater at Pittsburgh Public Theater running until April 6th. This may be the finest show I’ve ever seen at the Public, ad truly a delightful engaging evening. To get the most out of the evening, find some crib notes on the Trojan Way to read beforehand, like wikipedia, but even if you don’t, expect to be enthralled by the magnificent storytelling of The Poet played by Teagle Bougere. And, expect to be on your feet applauding at the end of the performance!

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