Make us your home page

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

Brendan Ragan as the Poet in Gorilla Theatre’s production of An Iliad.

Gorilla Theatre

Brendan Ragan as the Poet in Gorilla Theatre’s production of An Iliad.

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.

.if you go

An Iliad

The Gorilla Theatre play continues

8 p.m. today-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Springs Theatre, 8029 N Nebraska Ave., Tampa. Tickets $25; $20 seniors, students and military, at or at the door.

Review: 'An Iliad' brings modern flair to Homer's epic poem 01/29/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 5:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. What happened when I took my dad to a Pitbull concert

    Music & Concerts

    TAMPA — "So, you know how you like Pitbull?" I asked my dad. "We can see him."

    Selfie of Divya Kumar and Anand Kumar at Pitbull/Enrique Iglesias concert.
  2. Tampa City Council votes to accept travel invitation from Cuban ambassador


    The invitation came to Tampa City Council chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin in a June 9 letter from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.

    The Tampa City Council voted 6-0, with Frank Reddick out of the room, to respond to a travel invitation from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.
  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 25


    St. Pete Pride Festival: The daytime festival covers Central Avenue's Grand Central District with more than 350 vendors, multiple stages, live music, art and food. 9 a.m., Grand Central District, 2429 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Free. (727) 342-0084.

    Kristen Whalen poses for a photo before the start of the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg last year. It's that time of year again, so check with us for your planning purposes. [LUIS SANTANA  |   Times (2016)]
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24


    St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride's popular parade moves to downtown St. Petersburg's scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 9:45 p.m. 2 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth …

    Thousands line the streets of Central Ave. during the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg.  [Saturday, June 25, 2016] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  5. Bar review: Les Partners Lounge goes old-school in Clearwater

    Bars & Spirits

    There are some local places that I'm shocked aren't more well known, and I think that's the result of a general aversion to stepping out of one's comfort zone. I make regular concerted efforts to step outside of mine, which often leads me to strange and rewarding drinking establishments.

    Les Partners Lounge is an old-school, smoker-friendly cocktail lounge and live music venue tucked away in a nondescript shopping plaza in Island Estates.