I was vaguely familiar with The Iliad from my high school and college studies, as most people probably are. It tells the story of The Trojan War, you know - the one with the Trojan Horse, "the face that launched a thousand ships," Achilles, Agamemnon, and all of that. But the brilliant thing about this telling of the ancient story (co-written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare), is that it's really about any and every war that's ever been fought. At one point our storyteller lists what seems like every war in human history, and there are disturbingly many. The list is endless, and he gets more and more dejected with each one, until he quickly speeds through the end of the list and is silent. An Iliad makes the story of the Trojan War real and relevant, a story of the horrors of any and all wars.
But of course, a "one-man show" is never really that. Stephen is aided by the direction of Benjamin McGovern, the set design of Michael Hoover (the focus of which is what looks like an abandoned fountain in a town square, adorned with sand, water, scaffolding, and Greek wall sculptures, for an interesting mix of modern and ancient), and the lighting of Tom Mays (it's like another character, showing us where to look, flashing with the muses, house lights increasing and decreasing at appropriate times).
Playing now through May 26 at the Guthrie Theater, An Iliad is a sobering look at war through the eyes of one man and one ancient war that doesn't feel so ancient.