Friday, April 3, 2009

"War Music": ☼ ☼ 1/2 bauble

You get Achilles in sweat pants, Patroclus in white undies and Zeus in a blue fighter's robe. You get Aphrodite descending on a celestial swing that is as vaudeville as Olympic. You get the Trojans and Greeks wearing red and black berets with modern camo uniforms which make them look like El Salvador versus Honduras in the Soccer War of 1969. And you also get the fabulous A.C.T. company, each man and woman acting in at least three roles, as all of Homer's immortal gods and men are reassembled on the Geary Theater Stage.

Why? You've got to ask yourself. In 1997 English poet Christopher Logue finished his translation of several books of Homer's "Iliad," with help from Homeric scholar Donald Carne-Ross. Entitled "War Music," this translation excited playwright Lillian Groag so much that she took it to Carey Perloff, Artistic Director of A.C.T. and persuaded the company to donate several years of hard work to collaborate on a theatrical version of "War Music."

Clearly, it was a tremendous effort on A.C.T.'s part, involving Perloff, Groag, composer John Glover and choreograper Daniel Pelzig. But the World Premiere shows it takes more than sweat equity and a familiar war to excite an audience. Act One is confused and Act Two feels like it is not Troy but San Francisco being besieged, with the bloodthirsty enemy at the exits refusing to allow anyone to leave the theater until Achilles finally stops sulking, stirs his stumps and jumps into the fray.

Maybe it's all the multiple roles. Maybe Jud Williford, so good in so many previous A.C.T. productions, shouldn't be asked to play a heel, the capital of France and the home of rhythm and blues (Achilles, Paris and Apollo). Maybe Agamemnon, the baddie of baddies, should have been played by someone nastier than Lee Ernst, preferably a seven footer with a scar. Maybe Rene Augesen, whose Helen is as vain as only the most beautiful woman in the world can be, could do more than utter the only unforgettable line of the evening: ("A world war? For ME?") And possibly they could trim a FEW characters -- thankfully Poseidon (played to great comic effect by Anthony Fusco) had his trident spear, else we'd have lumped him in with all the other P's -- Paris, Patroclus, Priam and Pandar.

Of course, this was Opening Night, the first performance of many that will follow, as company and author attempt to whittle. At the story's heart is nothing less than the human condition -- our hubris is bound to get us, and when it does we can't even count on our Gods to save us. They're worse than we are.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ 1/2 bauble
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is exceedingly thankful to A.C.T. for this ambitious World Premiere in our city. Nonetheless, Two and a Half Stars is the best we can do for now, with a Bauble of Shame thrown in for good measure. While we can't be enthusiastic in our response, we can single out Gregory Wallace for his sensible Hector, Erin Michelle Washington for her energetic Athena, and Willis and Augesen for their excellent Zeus and Aphrodite. Daniel Ostling's lunar/solar set was terrific to look at and -- we guess -- Beaver Bauer's costumes gave the playwright the absurdist and modernist look he desired.

The Bauble of Shame is for John Glover's heralded music -- without a live orchestra (cut, as always, for cost considerations), it really better be good. Yawn and double yawn. And the vaguely hip hop track during one of the battles -- oh, please.

"War Music"
A.C.T. Theater
405 Geary Street, San Francisco
Through April 26

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