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Madness of war drives ‘An Iliad’ to victory

Timothy Edward Kane reprises his role as The Poet his one-man stage presentati'An Iliad' Court Theatre. | Michael Brosilow Photo

Timothy Edward Kane reprises his role as The Poet in his one-man stage presentation of "An Iliad" at Court Theatre. | Michael Brosilow Photo

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Highly recommended

When: Through Dec. 8

Where: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis

Tickets : $45-$65

Info: (773) 753-4472;

Run time: 1 hour and 40 minutes,
no intermission

Updated: April 14, 2014 4:48PM

The return to “reality” does not come quickly in the wake of Timothy Edward Kane’s performance in “An Iliad” — a feat of breathtaking technical skill, extreme intellectual prowess and devastating emotional impact. But when it does, in this reprise of his triumphant 2011 performance at Court Theatre, many questions race to mind.

For starters: Why is this uncannily gifted, immensely charismatic, impossibly smart Chicago actor not world famous?

Why is he not in constant demand for starring roles on Broadway, given he is more than the equal of the many British actors and Hollywood stars routinely tapped for them?

And finally, what thoughts must pulse though Kane’s brain as he is about to walk onto Court’s stage to perform this crushingly difficult, gut-wrenching, 100-minute solo work? What crazy energy and laserlike focus must be in play for him to bring Homer’s classic of war and insanity to life with such fire, shrewdness, derangement and riveting ancient-meets-modern verbal magic?

Of course there is the genius of the script — a unique stage adaptation by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare based on Robert Fagles’ translation from the ancient Greek. There is the scorched earth direction of Charles Newell that meshes seamlessly with Kane’s talents. And there is the stunning design for the show: Todd Rosenthal’s monumental ramp of ruin and desecration, Keith Parham’s golden lighting, Andre Pluess’ humming sound, Rachel Healy’s timeless “costume.”

But in the end it is Kane, with his piercing eyes and shaved head, and his gift for making every image, action and response in this massive act of storytelling shockingly clear, who does the heavy lifting. He casts a spell from the moment he lifts his arms and gives us an incantation in Greek that conjures the pain and despair to come.

And by the end of his storytelling you are left to wonder: Is it “the gods” who created and fueled all the havoc, sending famous and anonymous warriors into battle, filling them with a mad, unstoppable contagion of rage and revenge, leaving wives and children to wail at their deaths, and a father to beg for the corpse of a beloved son? Or is it some deep, aberrant impulse inside men themselves?

At the center of “An Iliad” is an extraordinary recounting of the vicious battle between Achilles and Hector at the end of the 10-year Trojan War. But it is not about this one battle at all. Just listen to Kane compulsively recite the horrific catalogue of all the major conflagrations since Troy and a form of post-traumatic shock sets in.

As indelibly as “An Iliad” branded itself into my imagination the first time around, it burned even deeper this time. Be brave; see it.


Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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