MaConnia Chesser performs in “An Iliad” at the Ancram Opera House. Photo: B. Docktor
Ancram Opera House, Ancram, New York
Written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare
Directed by Jeffrey Mousseau
“I told you!”
On the third night of Hunter’s Moon, the poet entered the deserted theater stage of the Ancram Opera House to tell the story of the war that Homer spoke of in “The Iliad”. This time she sang the story of anger, frustration, and regret in such a compelling way that we couldn’t turn away or ignore the implications of the times we live in, where it seems we are. never learned the lessons of the past. I have seen this play four times before and it has always impressed me as an accomplishment for the actor, male or female. This time the play looked like reality as MaConnia Chesser took on the challenges of the storyteller whose vision of intricacy was to do exactly what the story demands: tell it clearly and contain your emotions, but tell the story. of the war. Telling the story is what it does; emotion colors the narrative, however, and when it finally reaches the point where answer is more important than report, the factual account becomes the horror story of our lives today. The poet’s litany of war and its evolution over time ends with Afghanistan. Always the highlight of the play for me, this time it was devastating.
The Hunter’s Moon, while not an image within theatrical boundaries, is expected to be an image for this play in the future. It’s a symbol of the urge to gather supplies to support us for the long, dark winter ahead, just as this script by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare is a symbol of the self-defeating nature of humanity. The unforeseen juxtaposition of the two things cut me short. I had never imagined my place, our place, in the tragic history of the world. The language here, at once simple yet complex and poetic, gave me the pain of reality and the beauty of tradition. Chesser blackmails the language as she falls into Greek and Aramaic when she cannot speak English. His language and his mind wander but still on the way to a modern reality. Its poet has told this story all over the world, hoping to alleviate both our pain in our past and our reluctance to pursue this path in the future.
Chesser is quite an actor. By establishing her role as a poet, she removes all gender from her being and becomes an entity entrusted with the duty of the gods to speak to people for centuries about the essence of war. She becomes the human edition of the book, almost devoid of personality and bias. Its poet has the responsibility of alerting humanity and this is done through the tale itself. She is not involved, although the remarkable use of inflection in the voice shows that it is a lie. We wonder how long she can still walk the earth telling this story to groups of people who don’t seem to understand the importance of it. Chessing forces us to understand the difficulty of preaching to a choir that cannot harmonize with its powerful and direct tune. Nothing about the Poet’s frustration is said, but it can be felt. Deeply felt. Playing these opposing objects, telling stories from various points of view, of Achilles and Hector, of Helena and Andromache, of Agamemnon and of Zeus, must be exhausting; it is for us in the dark, watching and listening, stretching out into the unknown and the unknown.
Director Jeffrey Mousseau worked with the actress to create an inescapable reality. Its scenography, designed by Sarah Edkins, shows us the result of our own time and its destruction of a theater in times of pandemic: stools, chairs and accessories litter the abandoned stage; a piano remains unplayed in a corner. The show’s unsettling lighting, designed by James McNamara, echoes the lighting of that orange moon against the hills outside. The MaConnia Chesser costume, an itinerant move, was created by costume designer Denise R. Massman and its color continues the theme of the eternal aspects of an Iliad’s story. Alexander Sovronsky’s astonishing immortal sound design is perhaps his finest work to date. Mousseau and Chesser work within these great technical aspects and, of course, across the storyline, to create something very special. “An Iliad” is more than a story; it is an adventure in theatrical terms. This fifth exhibition for me to this piece must be my last, because no one can do better. Already.
“An Iliad” is playing until October 31 at the Ancram Opera House, 1330 County Rt. 7, Ancram, New York.