roasting marshmallows after the iliad by fire
Ken Schwartz mixes two ancient traditions in Two Planks and a Passion’s The Iliad by Fire. There is a story that has endured for over 2,700 years and a mode of storytelling that precedes even the written word. In the black night under a big full moon, the air is heavy with the mist of impending rain, amid the sprawling forests and fields of the Ross Creek Mountain, a group of strangers huddle around a campfire. Interspersed among them are a company of actors who chorally, using a myriad of voice, gesture, fire and magic, conjure Homer’s tale of the last year of the Trojan War to life.
The result is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Myth, theatre and ritual are irrevocably linked and in Iliad By Fire the audience is able to see just how blurry the lines between the three can be. Schwartz’s adaptation of Homer’s epic poem makes many allusions to fire and its role not just in warming and illuminating the night for the warring armies, but also its significance in providing dignity in death. It is generally believed that the Western theatre evolved out of ritual thousands of years ago, and at times this theatrical production is reminiscent of some sort of fire rite or celebration.
The Iliad is a sorrowful and brutal cautionary tale about the hubris (or arrogant pride) of man, the fickleness of fate and the Gods, and the futility of war. Men from both the Argive and the Trojan army are slaughtered savagely, families are ripped apart, with Homer refusing to advocate for any one fighter or any one side. It can be difficult for directors to stage this sort of gory violence effectively, but in the dark, with drumsticks for spears, a highly theatrical representation and soundscape of fights to the death, mixed with the immediacy and sense of danger of the fire and Homer’s poetic and compelling depictions, brought the agony of this ancient war to life for me. The earnest and noble characterizations of Achilles, Hector, Patroclus and Priam had my feelings of empathy and loyalty wavering from side to side like a pendulum. Yet, of course, it does not matter which side you are rooting for, when the bodies are being counted, it is clear that no one is the winner. Graham Percy’s Zeus, like a drunken Ebenezer Scrooge, is not the omnipotent power one would want to hang his life upon.
There is something distinctly communal about sitting around a campfire immersed in the natural world. There is a primal sense of being rooted to something larger than this time and this place. The Iliad is considered to be part of the very foundation of Western literature. Between it and the fire, the wide open sky and the glowing moon, we were as close to connected as a post-modern crowd can get to our past and our ancestors. The vulnerability of our humanity is both universal and humbling.
The Iliad by Fire plays at the Theatre Off the Grid at Ross Creek Centre for the Performing Arts (555 Ross Creek Road, Canning, Nova Scotia) Tuesdays and Saturdays at 9:30pm. For The Iliad by Fire, regular tickets are available at $18. Discounted senior tickets are available ($15), as are discounts for students, actor’s equity members and military families ($12). Children’s tickets are $10. Picnics before the show are available and are $20, and subject to availability, so pre-ordering picnics are a must. Drinks and snacks are also available. For more information about Two Planks and a Passion or to your order your tickets please visit this website or call the Box Office at 902.582.3073.