Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Stage

Review: 'An Iliad' brings modern flair to Homer's epic poem

Imagine your favorite, most passionate English teacher from high school. The one who loved the books he was teaching so much that he would jump on his desk with excitement and bellow his favorite lines, bringing the scene to life in the drab, gray classroom before the principal stuck her head in to shush the class. Think Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society.

Seeing Gorilla Theatre's An Iliad is like hurling yourself back into your ninth grade classroom with Williams' John Keating for a review session of Homer's epic poem. In a shabby theater with a small platform stage, one man brings the tale to life and makes it resonate with a modern audience.

The poem's adaptation was originally developed as part of the New York Theatre Workshop Usual Suspects Program in 2012 by Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare, and it is an appropriate choice for Gorilla Theatre's resurgence onto the Tampa Bay theater scene. Springs Theatre in Seminole Heights functions as a temporary home for the production, and let's call it the ashes to Brendan Ragan's phoenix of a performance. The theater's rusty marquis stands out on the corner across from a dilapidated thrift shop, and the cavernous black box-style space is set up with cafe table seating that looks as if the thrift shop donated it to them.

As soon as the lights dim and the Poet winds his way through the audience and onto the stage, the daunting realization hits that the next 90 minutes (with no intermission) are in this man's hands.

His first words are in Greek, but he could have begun by singing, "Come with me and we'll be in a world of pure imagination," and it would have been equally as appropriate. The stage is spartan, with only a shabby dining set perched on the small platform against a white scrim, and just as you would expect from Mr. Keating or Willy Wonka, the Poet is expecting you to flex your own creative muscles and create a scene far more vivid than a small production budget would allow.

This tactic works and works well for a majority of the show. With the Poet as your guide, it is easy to conjure the image of a beach lined with jagged rocks, the tens of thousands of soldiers manning thousands of boats storming the shoreline, the bloody devastation of the front lines of battle. Only about three quarters of the way through does the twinge hit that the ticket overhead could have covered a few more lighting or sound cues.

The most surreptitiously poignant moments in An Iliad are when the Poet draws parallels between mythological war and our modern day wars. He starts by playing off national pride, eliciting claps and woos from the audience when he calls out "the boys from Florida" among a litany of American cities, but he hammers home how war has plagued the world in an impressive recitation of every war throughout history.

Curtain call is comparable to seeing a close friend cross the finish line of a marathon. The moment is short, but it captures an undertaking that is wildly deserving of the standing ovation. Ragan carries off an amazing feat in this production, and he does it with grace, tenacity and no more than a chair from Goodwill to fall back on.

Comments
Jobsite’s ‘The Tempest’ balances reverence and irreverence in a busy Shakespeare tribute

Jobsite’s ‘The Tempest’ balances reverence and irreverence in a busy Shakespeare tribute

TAMPA — The Tempest begins with shadow play, a ship tossed on high seas. Projected onto a backdrop, the shadow of that ship looks proportionate to the waves that rock it. You see this, even as a daemonic spirit holds a toy replica in her hand, the ac...
Published: 01/22/18
Orchestra sets off fireworks in the brassy ‘Sinfonietta’

Orchestra sets off fireworks in the brassy ‘Sinfonietta’

TAMPA — Many times during Sinfonietta, Leoš Janácek’s notoriously difficult but joyous work, it was impossible for a regular patron of the Florida Orchestra to escape this observation: They have never sounded quite like this.This isn’t to say musicia...
Published: 01/20/18
‘Mike Hammer - Encore for Murder’ serves up hard-boiled 1950s fare with a healthy side of wit

‘Mike Hammer - Encore for Murder’ serves up hard-boiled 1950s fare with a healthy side of wit

CLEARWATER — From the moment the title character takes center stage, Mike Hammer — Encore for Murder is sold. Rarely does one actor own an entire production the way Gary Sandy owns this world premiere, and it’s a pleasure at watch, in large measure t...
Published: 01/19/18
Inside American Stage’s plan to offer free or reduced admission to young people

Inside American Stage’s plan to offer free or reduced admission to young people

ST. PETERSBURG An air compressor did most of the talking as the small crew stapled down flooring to the stage. A master carpenter kept unskilled but eager workers on track, telling them where to line up edges. An astringent smell of glue permeated t...
Published: 01/18/18
What’s on stage this week: Riverdance, ‘Mike Hammer,’ ‘The Tempest’

What’s on stage this week: Riverdance, ‘Mike Hammer,’ ‘The Tempest’

RIVERDANCE AT 20: CIARA SEXTONShe’s a former world champion in Irish dance, and now Ciara Sexton, center, is leading Riverdance in Tampa. A lead dancer and soloist with the troupe, Sexton said she has felt comfortable touring the states."What really ...
Published: 01/17/18
Steve Martin and Martin Short talk touring together and ‘newfangled old-fashioned’ variety show

Steve Martin and Martin Short talk touring together and ‘newfangled old-fashioned’ variety show

It’s barely been a year since Steve Martin and Martin Short last brought their roadshow to town. But there was never a doubt in their minds they’d be back."We thought — and I seriously mean this — we’ve got to play Florida more." Martin said in a pho...
Published: 01/17/18
Tampa Rep’s ‘Gnit’ is a sharp commentary on narcissism in the age of selfies

Tampa Rep’s ‘Gnit’ is a sharp commentary on narcissism in the age of selfies

By JULIE GARISTOTimes CorrespondentTAMPA — Tampa Repertory Theatre’s Gnit strikes gold for theatergoers who appreciate deadpan wit, clever wordplay and incisive commentary on the human condition.First produced in 2013, the retread of a Scandinavian c...
Published: 01/16/18
Review: Show Palace’s Pippin daring and dangerous

Review: Show Palace’s Pippin daring and dangerous

HUDSON —If you saw the musical Pippin when it first hit Broadway in 1972, or a high school drama club version, or even a touring company rendition a decade ago, it’s not exactly the Pippin you’ll see if you’re wise enough to go see the spectacular mo...
Published: 01/15/18
Updated: 01/18/18
Review: Richey Suncoast’s I Hate Hamlet worth shouting about

Review: Richey Suncoast’s I Hate Hamlet worth shouting about

NEW PORT RICHEY — Many years ago I lived near New Orleans, and one of my favorite pastimes was to put my son in his stroller and saunter up and down the streets of the Vieux Carre.But Bourbon Street in the late afternoon was our favorite. Back then, ...
Published: 01/15/18
Updated: 01/18/18
A play about Miami’s Cocaine Cowboys is becoming a reality

A play about Miami’s Cocaine Cowboys is becoming a reality

MIAMI — The idea seemed outlandish, maybe even impossible at the time: a one-man play about Miami’s infamous Cocaine Cowboys of the 1980s. Some 15 years ago, the Miami-raised Billy Corben was deep into research for what would become Coca...
Published: 01/15/18
Updated: 01/16/18