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‘An Iliad’ is one man’s  onstage epic monologue

Timothy Edward Kane goes it alone for “An Iliad” 90-minute adaptatiHomer’s epic poem Court Theatre.

Timothy Edward Kane goes it alone for “An Iliad,” a 90-minute adaptation of Homer’s epic poem at Court Theatre.

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Updated: December 19, 2011 8:09AM

Timothy Edward Kane is about to singlehandedly take on a 3,000-year-old saga that originated in ancient Greece.

Guided by director Charlie Newell, Kane, who normally is one of many actors on stage, is finding his way solo through “An Iliad,” Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson’s 90-minute play adapted from Robert Fagles’ groundbreaking translation of Homer’s The Iliad.

“When Charlie called me last winter, I was flattered,” Kane recalled. “Then this feeling waned and I was terrified.”

The Iliad is one of the longest, most revered works of the Western canon since its emergence in 8 B.C. O’Hare and Peterson distilled 15,000 lines of poetry into a 90-minute monologue.

Homer’s epic recounts the 10-year war between the invading Greeks and the besieged Trojans. The adapters concentrate on the struggles between Greek warrior Achilles and Trojan prince Hector.

Kane portrays a storyteller whose eternal mission is to wander through time recounting this tale. He might be “as old as the story itself,” the actor says.

“He has been likened to the Ancient Mariner whose fate is to tell the story over and over,” Kane said. “As I got to know the story, I began to understand what is at stake for him. In the telling of the story, he comes alive.”

It is thought that The Iliad was originally an oral, improvised poem, so in creating the play, O’Hare and Peterson did improvisations on the original work. Hundreds of tapes were made, and they chose the segments they liked best.

Their adaptation emphasizes the waste of war. They use current references to get their ideas across, such as adding a recitation of the major wars waged over the centuries.

“The piece has a strong point of view,” Kane said. “It’s about war and that is complicated but you begin to understand how this story has thrived through all the periods of history.”

The Iliad is and always will be among the pile of books, including Moby Dick and War and Peace, that most people mean to read but never actually do. Kane feels the play speaks to both camps.

“This is a play for scholars and for people who never got around to reading The Iliad,” Kane said. “It’s very connected to the original text and brings a very daunting story to life.”

Kane feels one of the best aspects of his first solo experience has been the one-one-one interaction with Newell and the creative team.

“To have all these intelligent, distinct voices resting on each other is great,” Kane said. “It’s the best creative atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of.”

†“An Iliad” runs through Dec. 11 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis. For tickets $40-$60, call (773) 753-4472;

NOTE: Here’s something for all those who haven’t read The Iliad and would simply like to listen to it. Court Theatre and the Classical Entertainment Society will present “The Homerathon,” a 24-hour marathon reading of all 24 books in Homer’s classic work. University of Chicago faculty and students will read and the general public also can join in too (contact Ryan Mease at The reading begins at 10 p.m. Nov. 20 and concludes at 10 p.m. Nov. 21 on the Court Theatre stage. Admission is free.

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