“An Iliad” – the Florida Theater On Stage Review

Avi Hoffman Leads Harrowing “An Iliad” Reboot at Outre

by John Thomason

To a soundtrack of exploding missiles and news dispatches from modern wars, a lone, grizzled man enters what appears to be a bombed-out rampart. The corpses have been removed but the rest of the castle is a mangle of crushed chairs, broken stanchions and strings of unused bullets. This man is Avi Hoffman; he’s dressed like a casual war correspondent from no particular war, a lanyard around his neck and a guitar case slung over his shoulder. He starts muttering to himself in Greek, then kindly asks a front-row theatergoer for the program of the show he happens to be starring in.

So begins the hour and forty minutes of Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare’s An Iliad, a breathtaking solo show from Boca Raton’s Outre Theatre Company that exhumes Homer’s dramatization of the mythological Trojan War in terms we all can understand. There is colloquial language, modern-day references, video projection and audience interaction – even, occasionally, humor.

To this day, I’ve not read The Iliad. Presumably, this is because I was never assigned it in high school or college, and it always seemed like one of those chiseled-in-marble literary landmarks, like Beowulf or The Inferno, that one doesn’t read voluntarily. There must be a purpose behind all those hours suffering with the gods and warriors, in those 24 roman numeraled books written in dactylic hexameter. Luckily, in this case, knowledge of the source material is beside the point. This, after all, as An Iliad, not TheIliad, and it’s written with the literary laymen in mind.

It starts off slowly and incoherently, with Hoffman, credited simply as “the poet,” stalling for time, burying his own lede. Apparently, the poet is on tour with this whole Iliad thing, and he references previous shows: Alexandria was a tough crowd, but he killed at Gaul. This performance doesn’t appear to be going smoothly; he strums a few ragged bars of a country song on his guitar, then abandons it and very quickly takes to the three bottles of liquor housed in his knapsack, while trying to convey the magnitude of the Trojan War, or the role of the Greek gods in everyday emotions, or something like that.

Struggling for a connection – with us, or with some higher power – he tries repeatedly to summon his muses, but his cries fall on deaf ears.
Eventually, though, aided by the alcohol, our host manages to find his footing as a storyteller, and the result is absolutely spellbinding. Adopting a dozen or so voices – for Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon, Hermes, Patroclus, et al, as well his own, objective narrator – Hoffman elucidates Homer’s epic for us in propless but vivid details: a graphic novel come to life in our imagination, a Cliff’s Notes Iliad complete with analysis of the text. Part enthusiastic schoolteacher, part desperate messenger of mythological mayhem in a world overrun by real war, Hoffman’s performance oscillates between complete command of his historical subject and anguished aphasia, often breaking down from the sheer intensity of the harrowing scenes.

Hoffman is no stranger to one-man shows, having penned a trilogy of them for himself, beginning with his award-winning Too Jewish?No solo show could rightfully be called “easy,” but this play is in another league, an impossibly demanding exercise in memorization and endurance, directed imaginatively by Skye Whitcomb. In a calorie-burning performance, Hoffman runs Sisyphean circles around the stage, bounds steps, balances on planks of wood, dodges invisible spears, pounces on his victims like a feral animal, and dies a couple of times. In the process, he runs an emotional gamut, exuding the joy of victory, the absurdity of war, the rage of revenge and the bloodshed of its result.

He fills his oration with pregnant pauses, and there’s always a sense that maybe the next line has slipped his mind. But of course not – he’s simply too tormented to go on, or he’s waiting for words that never come, because no mere words can appropriately convey the brutality of infants smashed into mush or corpses dragged through war zones until they are no longer recognizable. Hoffman’s work here is, in a word, flawless – the best I’ve seen him in my eight years as a theater critic.

Outre’s An Iliad is a minimalist show only to a point; it swims feverishly in theatrical artifice. Stefanie Howard’s lighting design is a rainbow of emotional connection, bathing the stage in a blood-red whenever a god gets angry, basking Hoffman in a triumphal golden glow when appropriate and employing a chilly blue for a death scene. Danny Butler’s soundscape contributes just the right amount of clashing swords, crashing waves, howling winds and echo effects without distracting us from Hoffman’s performance. And Sean McLelland’s scenic design is a desiccated playground of discarded and decaying material, abstract enough to suggest any particular war.

Which is really the point of An Iliad, after all. War is war is war, and it really sucks for everyone involved, whether it’s mythological Greek warriors, combat troops in World War II or rebels in the current Syrian Civil War. In the play’s centerpiece, a rapid-fire audiovisual montage rattles off the names of every war in history, with images to back them up and Hoffman clutching his head an agony with the name of each decimated nation. It’s an exhilarating example of pure theater and this show’s icing on its emotional cake.

If, like me, you were disappointed in Outre’s initial offering, The Wild Party, last fall, don’t miss this one; it marks this company’s emergence as a major player in the South Florida theater community.

‘The Wild Party’ review on Talkin Broadway

By John Lariviere

The Outre Theatre Company opens its inaugural season with the musical The Wild Party featuring book, lyrics, and music by Andrew Lippa. The musical is based on a narrative poem of the same name written by Joseph Moncure March in 1928. Like the poem, the musical tells the tale of two vaudeville performers named Queenie and Burrs who live a decadent life of indulgence. They decide to have one of their parties complete with the couple’s eclectic mix of eccentric and self-absorbed friends. Fueled by passion, regret, drugs and alcohol, the party unfolds into a night they will long remember.

Read more of John’s review for Talkin Broadway, here.

 

 

The Wild Party is a kinky move for a new company

By Richard Cameron

Outre Theatre Company presents the bravest musical yet, from any South Florida theatre company. The Wild Party is a kinky move, especially for a new theatre company. And everyone knows sex sells!”

Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party is playing November 24, 2012 through December 2, 2012 at Mizner Park Cultural Center located at 201 Plaza Real, Boca Raton, Florida 33432. For tickets call 954-300-2149 or visit www.outretheatrecompany.com.

Artistic Director Skye Whitcomb has chosen one of the most talked about musicals of this generation. Although the musical takes place in 1926. The Wild Party was inspired by Joseph Moncure March’s poem. The same brutal, destructive lifestyles are as visible today, as they were in 1920’s. But, they may have had more sex, lies, drugs without the video tapes.

Read the rest of Richard Camerons review for The Examiner, here.

 

 

Outré joins theater scene with ‘Wild Party’

by Christine Dolen

A new South Florida theater company has hit the stage with its ambitious debut production of Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party. In picking that musical, Outré Theatre Company and artistic director Skye Whitcomb are making a statement about what this troupe intends to be: a company willing to embrace challenging material, large-cast shows and young talent.

As with any startup, Outré has strengths and weaknesses, and both are abundantly on display in its first show at the Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center in Boca Raton.

Read the rest of Christine Dolen’s review of The Wild Party for the Miami Herald, here.

StageBill Blog: Here’s To Savoring The Joy Of Discovery By Bill Hirschman (posted July 25, 2012)

On a trip to London in 1989, a matinee fell through and, in desperation, my sister and I settled for seeing a film of Henry V, starring and directed by some young guy named Kent Brannaw or some such name.

When I walked back into the sunlight, the source of my bliss was easy to identify: For years to come, I could savor whatever this Kenneth Branagh pursued as an artist. Some projects would work, some would not. But here was a fresh, exciting talent whose latest efforts I would eagerly scarf up like a new William Goldman novel or a Nanci Griffith album.

In other words, the delight of discovery. Audience members have few joys as pungent as discovery.

Which brings us to the fledgling Outré Theatre Company and Tuesday night’s staged reading of the ink-black comic drama Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead at Empire Stage – and Outré’s reading in May of the chamber musical tick…tick…BOOM.

I don’t want to slather the praise too thickly on this shoestring company that won’t be tested by mounting a full-fledged production until late this fall.

But if these two shows are any indication, South Florida’s theater scene may be on the verge of welcoming a significant new voice.

Read more…

StageBill Blog: It’s Not All Darkness Out There By Bill Hirschman (posted May 15, 2012)

As the music swelled Monday at Outré Theatre Company’s concert production of tick…tick…BOOM!,  a thought kept interfering with my becoming completely lost in Jonathan Larson’s chamber musical.

There’s hope.

Admit it, we’ve all been fighting off a pessimistic depression with the collapse of Florida Stage, the graceful exit of Promethean Theatre, the hiatus of Rising Action, Women’s Theatre Project and Naked Stage, and the limbo of the Caldwell Theatre.

But the past week of theatergoing in South Florida has provided several vital signs that our Fabulous Invalid shouldn’t be placed on the critical list, just kept under observation.

Exhibit one: Monday’s night fundraiser for Outré, a tiny company founded by Skye Whitcomb and Nori Tecosky who have the ridiculous belief that someone can start a theater company in this economy amid declining attendance, evaporating government support and miniscule patron donations.

Their moving edition of Larson’s pre-Rent tale of young people pursuing their artistic dreams forced you to admit that if they can pull off such a smooth, assured and no-excuses production, maybe it’s the doubters who should be hedging their bets.

Read more…