“An Iliad” spans the Trojan War in an epic one-man show


In Pittsburgh Public Theater’s latest production, the concept of a one-man show is pushed to its limit.

“An Iliad,” which debuts tonight at the Pittsburgh Public Theater and runs through April 6, tells stories of the Trojan War and its many heroes.

This adaptation, written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, is based on the translation of “The Iliad” by Robert Fagles. Directed by Jesse Berger, the production stars actor Teagle Bougere, who encompasses many different roles in this adaptation of Homer’s epic poem. 

“We have a great actor telling the story. You’re going to be amazed at what he can do and the journey he takes you on,” Berger said. 

In the play, Bougere has the difficult task of acting as the narrator, Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon, Helen of Troy and other icons of the Trojan War all without changing costume. However, Bougere is undaunted by this task, and said that he welcomes the challenge brought on by so many different roles.

“The heart of it is to just make whomever you are truthful,” Bougere said. “I just need to talk to you in a sincere way, and if I believe I’m a woman, you will believe I’m a woman. And that’s all I have to do.”

Despite its uniqueness as a one-man show, “An Iliad” is also intriguing for its similarities to the epic poem on which it is based.

“‘The Iliad’ grows out of an oral tradition,” Professor Edwin Floyd, a member of the University’s Department of Classics, said. “From the beginning, it was written down. But it was a written presentation of something that could have been performed orally.”

The title of the play is meant to convey that this is just one of many interpretations of the epic poem. However, the storytelling aspect of the play celebrates the antiquity and ingenuity of “The Iliad.”

“It’s a beautiful way of telling the story,” Berger said. “We don’t know how Homer told his stories, but it’s probably similar. As far as we know, Homer was a one-man band singing the stories of the Trojan War, so this is a nice contemporary retelling of that.”

What adds to the contemporary nature of the play is its incorporation of current vernacular, as well as modern events. Berger alluded to one portion of the play when the narrator likens a warrior in the Trojan War to one from Iowa being shipped off to fight in Afghanistan.

 While “An Iliad” is unique for its modernity fused with “The Iliad,” Floyd argued that the uniqueness of “The Iliad” will be watered down because of the play’s use of Robert Fagle’s interpretation.

“A lot of it is lost in translation in Fagle’s interpretation,” Floyd said. “The rhythm and musicality in Greek is not the same here.”

Berger and Bougere seemed more focused on the play’s celebration of both old and new. Rather than being a strict interpretation of Homer’s work, “An Iliad” relishes its status as a fusion of the ancient story with modern applications.

“What stands out the most to me … is how powerful, resonant and beautiful this 2,000- to 3,000-year-old tale is still for us today,” Berger said. “There is something timeless in it.”

With love triangles, crestfallen heroes and supernatural interference from the gods, the story of the Trojan War is filled with incredible, and sometimes confusing, detail. However, the many themes and their simplicity — mainly love, death and fate to name a few — are what have made “The Iliad” a meaningful story for audiences throughout history.

“It’s interesting because, in a way, it’s quite simple,” says Bougere. “But it’s quite difficult, technically. And it’s magical, it’s just magical.”