WAR SONG REVIEWED

WAR SONG
 
Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

 

The American Conservatory Theater is currently performing WAR MUSIC at the Geary Theater.

 

The show, adapted and directed by Lillian Groag, is based on the book by Christopher Logue, which is translated from another book, allegedly written or told or sung—accompanied by the lyre—by Homer—Homer being the son of Nestor.

 

As for determining what events establish the beginning and the end of the show, MS Groag gets off easy: she follows the lead of MR Logue.

 

Before we get too many steps down the road of analysis, let it suffice to say that the show is spectacular: beyond any scope, scale or proportion that could be safely attempted by most theater companies—even the most reckless.

 

A.C.T., MS Groag, the cast and crew are truly ambitious and daring to tackle it.

 

Additionally, they unequivocally successful.

 

Not to employ Hellenic idioms, but the show is a Herculean feat of Colossal proportions and Gordian complexity.

 

Furthermore, it is as enjoyable as it is intellectually challenging.

 

A show of such grandeur arrives in the bay area as frequently as Halley's Comet.

 

To truly enjoy WAR MUSIC, one need revisit classical mythology via THE ILIAD and Edith Hamilton's MYTHOLOGY.

 

A little exegesis of the characters is important for understanding the plot line, the humor, the costuming and the fates and prophecies that rivet the players to their respective destinies at Troy like a roller coaster is fastened to its track.

 

The entire personae dramatis of Homer's ILIAD appears on stage: Thetis, Aphrodite, Helen (Rene Augesen), Homer, Crysez, Soos (Charles Dean), Agamemnon, Antenor, Hephaestus (Lee Ernst), Odysseus, Pandar, Poseidon (Anthony Fusco), Hera, Antilochus, Tu (Sharon Lockwood), Calchas, Priam, Scamander, Makon (David A. Moss), Thersites, Ajax (Andy Murray), Menelaus, Diomed, Deedam (Nicholas Pelczar), Patroclus, Aeneas (Christopher Tocco), Hector, Idomeneo (Gregory Wallace), Athena, Manto, Andromache, Cumin (Erin Michelle Washington), Achilles, Paris, Apollo (Jud Williford), Nestor, Zeus, Anchises (Jack Willis).

 

Remarkable performances are turned in by Jud Williford and Rene Augesen.

 

MS Augesen is ideally cast as the Greek Goddess of Love given that callipygos (from whence derives our euphemistic adjective: callipygian) was an epithet for Aphrodite.

  

Back in the days circa 1330 BCE, anyone who was anyone in the Eastern Mediterranean was at Troy: either encamped on the sand or snug within Priam's fortress.

 

If you were not at Troy you were back in Greece languishing: consuming thy husband's store.

 

Penelope wiled away the years weaving an Afghan and coquettishly sidestepping the rowdy suitors that partied in her home.

 

Helen's sister, the hormonally over-revved Clytemnestra was busy embarrassing her children: Orestes and Electra, by cavorting with Aegisthus—giving it out like a Hollywood tart caught between rehab spas.

 

WAR MUSIC and more specifically the ILIAD is the convergence of at least a dozen comeuppances or vengeance schemes for unforgivable slights, minor offenses, breaches of protocol and injured egos; it is the Karmic kickback for a dozen philanderings—incestuous or otherwise—and the fruition or "I told you so" for a dozen Delphic prophecies spouted by Oracles, Soothsayers, Tarot Dealers, Palm Readers and Charlatans from every corner of the Mediterranean.

 

The play opens with 50,000 Greek or Achaean troops nesting—nut to butt—on the alluvium where the Scamander River confluences with the Dardanelles.

 

The Greeks have been camping for nine years, without their wives, which explains a lot about the Greek tradition for broadmindedness when it comes to acceptable forms of recreational concupiscence.

 

What is not explained, is the logistics.

 

How did food arrive?

 

Where did they find sufficient firewood?

 

Mail?

 

Drinking water?

 

Bathroom tissue?

 

Soap?

 

Laundry detergent?

 

Dental floss?

 

Homer and WAR MUSIC seem to floss, or should we say, gloss over such mundane details.

 

And where did the Trojans grow their food with the Greeks out menacing their countryside?

 

As the curtain rises, the Greeks are bored: Helen is about to return home with Menelaus, Achilles is pouting.

 

A catalyst is needed to prod the war to its fated conclusion or an exit strategy needs to be formulated.

 

Even before classical antiquity, exit strategies were rare; now Afghanistan and Iraq prove that exit strategies are equally elusive or worse: extinct.

 

For the sake of all the sequels that issue forth from the ILIAD, a catalyst is enthused, the ennui broken and ultimately Brad Pitt gets to make another B movie.

 

In a nutshell, Hector mistakenly kills Patroclus: boy friend to Achilles: the Brooding Prince of Phthia in Thessaly.

 

Just as a vengeful Achilles is suiting up in fresh armor provided by Hephaestus at the request of Thetis, the curtain comes down.

 

End of Part One?

 

Another intermission?

 

A disgruntled stagehand goes amuck on the curtain halyards?

 

Imagine if you will, HIGH NOON ending just as the train pulls into town.

 

Then too, it is difficult to find a proper ending scene for the Greeks and the Trojans.

 

The Greek story continues through the ORESTIA of Sophocles: it does not come to rest until after the curtain falls on EUMENIDES.

 

The Trojan epilog is picked up by Virgil as the AENEID; Aeneas waylays in Carthage with Queen Dido (c.f. the Punic Wars); the story concludes with the fratricidal founding of Rome by Romulus: Romulus had the city named in his honor while the vanquished Remus served as the basis of Uncle Remus: chief story teller in SONG OF THE SOUTH—which is now property of Pixar.

 

WAR MUSIC is a marvel: studded with beautiful women, hunks of men, punctuated by one gag after another and culturally edifying.

 

For tickets to a classic show in the traditional sense of the word, surf on over to www.act-sf.org or call the A.C.T. box office at 415-834-3200.



Feeling the pinch at the grocery store? Make dinner for $10 or less.