Jerry Vogel Hits A “Homer” In Upstream’s “An Iliad”

Jerry Vogel as The Poet in Upstream Theater's "An Iliad."

Jerry Vogel as The Poet in Upstream Theater’s “An Iliad.”

Upstream Theater’s “An Iliad” has become one of the “must see” performances of the theatre season. Thanks to an unusual script and an unbelievable, gut-wrenching and mesmerizing performance by Jerry Vogel as The Poet, this is a production that could be classified as one of the all-time greats. Oddly enough, it’s taking the place of a play that Upstream’s Artistic Director, Philip Boehm couldn’t currently get the rights to produce.

We open on the simple Patrick Huber set design showing a blackboard, a small table and chair and a wooden box with a valance-like hanging pictorial of the Trojan War all in front of a gauze backdrop. Composer and musician Farshid Soltanshahi is positioned just off the elevated stage left area and introduces the opening on guitar. Later he handles percussion duties as well as a few other stringed instruments. Then Mr. Vogel enters through the center aisle- acknowledges the audience, beckons Mr. Soltanshahi to help him “set” the stage with two candles acting as footlights downstage right and left and then lighting an incense stick, allowing the scent to waft gently over the audience.

Relating tales of the bloody battles of The Trojan War- Jerry Vogel as The Poet in Upstream's "An Iliad."

Relating tales of the bloody battles of The Trojan War- Jerry Vogel as The Poet in Upstream’s “An Iliad.”

Simply called The Poet, we’re not sure if he is Homer reincarnated or a scholar giving us the “skinny” on the Trojan War and it’s effects on wars and humankind since the battles of that 8th century war that inspired the epic poem, “The Iliad.” Through the next 90 or so minutes, he treats us to an uncanny look at the incidents surrounding the major players of “Greece vs. Troy” while taking time to relate it to our more modern wars from the grandiose to the lowly- even including modern day personal skirmishes like “road rage.” Throughout he also relates personal tragedy as it affects family and others not directly related to the wars. Touches of humor combine with an intensity that puts the audience on the edge of their seats. As always, Fate- or in the case of ancient Greece and Troy- the Gods controlled the sway and outcome of battle.

Jerry Vogel has been one our local treasures as an actor for some time, but he simply blows us away with this portrayal. A series of highs and lows as he runs the gamut of emotions through the death of Achilles’ friend Patroclus as he wears Achilles’s armor to the eventual turning point of the Trojan War when Achilles humiliates Hector and literally “overkills” his opponent. Each incident rises to a fever pitch as vocally and physically he becomes these ancient warriors and brings a new, powerful level of acting that we haven’t seen on stage in some time. His brilliant litany of wars since the Trojan War is a masterpiece in itself. This is tremendous theatre.

Jerry Vogel portraying The Poet in "An Iliad" at Upstream Theater.

Jerry Vogel portraying The Poet in “An Iliad” at Upstream Theater.

The infamous Trojan Horse becomes an afterthought for these more important themes of what makes heroes or cowards in war and why war is such a driving force in almost every civilization on earth. Brilliant direction by Patrick Siler enhances these themes and he makes The Poet accessible to a modern audience- even has him interacting and moving about the audience throughout the play. And it can’t be emphasized enough how important the music of Farshid Soltanshahi is to this production. As in so many Upstream plays, live music is an integral part of the proceedings and this one is no exception.

The updated and more accessible translation of The Iliad by Robert Fagles is the inspiration behind this wonderful script by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson. As director Siler states, that’s why this is called “An Iliad” rather than “The Iliad.” Combined with the gritty and triumphant performance of Jerry Vogel, this is a piece of theatre you cannot afford to miss.

Contact Upstream Theater at 314-863-4999 or at upstreamtheater@sbcglobal.net for tickets of more information. “An Iliad” runs through June 9th.

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One Response to “Jerry Vogel Hits A “Homer” In Upstream’s “An Iliad””

  1. Sam Says:

    we’re going tonight, we’ll let you know

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