For its first outdoor show, CATCO aims to resurrect the ancient power of storytelling in a modern adaptation of a Greek classic.
The professional theater company, in partnership with the Wexner Center for the Arts, will present the premiere of “An Iliad,” which opens Friday at the Browning Amphitheater at Ohio State University.
“With the power of live theater anything can happen … and it harkens back to the traditions of how storytelling began,” said CATCO artistic director Leda Hoffmann, who directs the play.
“The first oral storytellers to roam Greece worked outdoors in amphitheatres, and this space echoes a Greek amphitheater,” she said.
Homer wrote “The Iliad” in 8th century BC Greece as an epic poem about the heroism and horrors of the Trojan War. Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare adapted Robert Fagles’ acclaimed translation into a 100-minute act.
“The original text is all about rage, starting with the rage of Achilles, who is angry with Agamemnon. He is so upset that he stops fighting, ”Hoffmann said.
“The question of the play is, can we as humans control our rage? “
Angela Iannone – a native of Columbus with experience in national tours, off-Broadway and regional theaters – plays the poet, who tells the story and takes on virtually every role.
“I’m present in the present, I’m talking about the past… the way history feels and sounds,” said Iannone.
“The poet addresses the audience to ask: do you see that? Can you understand this? It’s not just, “Let me recite the Iliad,” she said.
Iannone finds rich depths in the Homeric saga.
“Is it a story of war? … of honor, fate or loss?” Is it an action-adventure? Is this history? The Greeks certainly thought that was the case, ”she said.
“Or is it a myth? This is how we tend to see it now.
A seasoned actress-director-teacher who has lived and worked in Milwaukee, New York and Chicago for many years, Iannone recently returned to Columbus, making her debut at CATCO possible.
“Angela has that presence in her. She’s an actress who gets attention, ”said Hoffmann, who first met Iannone over a decade ago when they both worked at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.
Iannone has performed solo pieces, appearing as Katharine Hepburn in “Tea at Five”, Diana Vreeland in “Full Gallop” and Sarah Bernhardt in “Memoir”.
“The great thing about a single performer format is that the speed and rhythm are in your control,” Iannone said.
“But I won’t be strictly alone in ‘An Iliad’,” she said, “because the Muse will be sharing the stage with me.”
Columbus musician Stephen Spottswood plays the Speechless Muse, the only other performer on stage, who accompanies the poet through music.
“The Muse is an inspiration,” said Spottswood, 29, a violinist and orchestral teacher at Reynoldsburg town schools.
“My character guides the narrator with impromptu spontaneity … to tell the story in a different way,” he said.
CATCO commissioned Spottswood to compose an instrumental score for the piece and play it on the electric violin.
“What I wrote is more like shorthand … improvisation, in a given structure. It could change from night to night, ”he said.
“It’s my playing style. I’m a hip-hop violinist at heart, and that’s what I like to play, with a little bit of jazz and soul.
Its purpose, he said, is to evoke love, greed, power and the other themes of the play through the music.
“My violin will mimic these emotions,” he said.
“This piece is like jazz … exchanging solos, back and forth.”
Spottswood, a street fiddler who performs at weddings and at the North Market, was excited about the opportunity to frame Homer with modern music.
“We have to know the classics… And as a black man, it’s important for me to reflect our culture,” Spottswood said.
“I’m a teacher,” he added, “and it’s a way to connect with young people and people of color.”
Iannone, meanwhile, relishes the prospect of tackling another Greek play after performing in several over her career.
“They are full of action and real excitement, and they don’t get old,” she said.
“No matter which one you choose, it’s still incredibly timely. The Greeks were interested in people on the edge of the extreme, in crisis, and there is always a crisis.
In one look
CATCO, in partnership with the Wexner Center for the Arts, will present “An Iliad” at 8 pm Thursday through Sunday through July 25 at Browning Amphitheater, near Neil Avenue and John Herrick Drive, on the Ohio State University campus. Tickets are $ 30, or $ 20 per device for streaming July 22-25. Call 614-469-0939 or visit www.catco.org.