It’s a brave endeavor, even for a poet-soldier: the retelling of a classic text many recall with dread from a high school literature class. But like all courageous acts, when “An Iliad” opens tonight for a single weekend, it will be fueled by fervor.
The show starts out with a simple set in ancient Greece, with the poet-soldier telling the story of the Trojan War. Once he realizes he is speaking to a modern-day American audience, he begins using modern idioms, cultural memories and references, and in turn tells the story of all of humanity’s wars. The goal, he said, is to make the story of the Trojan War accessible while making reference to the broader issue: “We just can’t seem to stop fighting.”
While the show has its moments of humor and excitement, the underlying theme of war is a sober one. Still, Harlan believes it’s a show audiences will find moving and relevant. When he discovered the script nearly a year ago, he was attracted to the idea of discussing war by the telling the classic story. It helps that the story itself is fun to tell, he said.
“It’s very gentle and very sweet, and at times it’s absolutely brutal,” Harlan said. While there are awful and emotional moments, he believes the show ends on a hopeful note.
In a sense, the role is one Harlan has been preparing for since 9/11 when he found himself speaking for reason and thought, rather than falling into a “moment of rage” through military action. While he has never been in the military, he knows enough of the consequences of war to believe it’s not something to rush into blindly.
“It’s a lesson I’ve wanted to teach,” Harlan said. “It’s something that is close to my heart, it matters to me.”
If you go:
WHAT: “An Iliad,” staged by Moscow Art Theatre (Too)
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. tonight, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre, 508 S. Main St., Moscow
COST: $10/adults, $8/students; tickets available in advance at kenworthy.org.