In 2013 Becky Greene Udden, the artistic director of Main Street Theater in Houston, sent Guy Roberts, artistic director of the Prague Shakespeare Company, the script to An Iliad, saying she really thought he should do it.
"But we had so many other big projects going on I didn't really have time," Roberts says.
But four years later and after the play has been performed to general acclaim around the world, Roberts was ready. A frequent collaborator with Main Street, he not only prepared to play the main part but he also incorporated music into the play, which will be performed by Fanette Ronjat who will play the violin and sing and Prague Shakespeare Company actor Jessica Boone who will sing.
Based upon Homer's classic poem The Iliad, this play — written by Lisa Person and Denis O'Hare with original music by Patrick Neil Doyle — finds a war-weary poet (is he Homer himself?) reflecting on all the wars he's seen through time. His clothing will be contemporary, Roberts said. "The costume, probably the character will be almost like he’s a journalist embedded somewhere in the Middle East perhaps.")
Roberts and Udden are co-directing the one-act and Roberts wants audiences to know that no one has to re-read The Iliad to understand what's going on in this fast-paced drama, which also includes a lot of humor. (Although for a quick refresher course: The Trojans and the Greeks are in the last days of an impossibly long war that started after Paris of Troy stole/seduced Helen, believed to be the most beautiful woman in the world, from Meneleus, the Greek ruler and her husband. And the Greeks want her back.)
Pride, hubris, whatever, it all adds up to a pretty bloody and ridiculous enterprise on both sides. Oh and the gods get in there and meddle about quite a bit.
"The Iliad is basically about rage, anger and wrath and the things it causes men and women to do," Roberts says. "I think the poet is pretty tired of living through all of these wars through all the centuries. I studied The Iliad when I was in school; I’d forgotten a lot about it till I started spending time on it now. It’s amazing to me that this story that’s 2,500 years old is really in many ways the foundational ethic of our entire Western civilization."
"If you don't know anything about the Trojan War you get a complete primer on it," he says. "I think that's actually the genius of the script. The story is told in a very easy conversational manner. If you walk in knowing nothing about The Iliad, you’re not going to be lost at all. It's perfect for anyone at all interested in myth.
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"There’s no intermission and once it begins it continues rolling forward like some kind of avalanche."
At least one song and some of the dialog will be in Greek, but Roberts says everyone will be able to understand what's going on. "We got in touch with some Greek experts. It just adds to the evening."
After running in Houston, the group will take the production back to Prague where it will premiere at The National Theater in the historic Estates Theater. The Prague company has envisioned this as the first part of a trilogy about the Trojan War with Shakespeare's Troillus and Cressida in a new modern production by Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Euripides' The Trojan Women, the other two legs. Roberts says he hopes they'll be able to bring those plays to Houston as well.
Performances are scheduled for January 4-14 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Main Street Theater-Rice Village, 2540 Times Boulevard. For information, call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com. $39-$42. $10 student tickets with ID.