Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Not your classic, classic - an intense one-man-show confronts war


This is not your classic, classic! The new production and acting team of “Alder and Clark present” have taken a contemporary take on a classic, and taken it to, intensely emotional places. 

As much as I love myth and theology, I was never fully captivated when we studied the ancient myths and gods. Contemporary stories always seemed to convey the same themes, only in more easily understood and relatable ways. 

Rest assured, “An Iliad,” the postmodern play by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare is not The Iliad by Homer, although the same myths and gods persist. That is, this show is a visionary revision of a classic, but not your “classics class” classic, and the audience only benefits from its immediacy and impact.

When we are at a “backstage” style show at the Cookeville Performing Arts Center, seats are set up on the physical stage itself, and the audience can feel really immersed in the show. This is taken to an irrevocably intimate place with this wild performance. We just can’t hide from humanity’s self-hatred and the conflicted hope that stories about ourselves might finally save us from ourselves. 

Joe Clark might make eye-contact and give you cold chills, as his entire person interprets the one-man monologue that is the entire text with a particular mania and monstrous passion. The show is approximately 100 minutes without an intermission, but you will lose track of time as you are entertained and disturbed and possessed by the ghastly and grisly humor that the singular actor shares.

The stage is bare but for a boombox and a barrel fire and a bottle in a brown-paper bag. And assorted blankets and empty food cans and a dog bowl of water and dog-eared reading material. It could be one of the houseless camps that we see in every city.  Their minimalist stage set shows the speaker as a soggy traveler, a spent and sorry vagabond, a raging hobo on a hyperbolic binge. The play itself is an intoxicated Spark Notes of the primary source text, an external monologue about horror and heroism of war, mixed and mashed-up with an internal monologue about the bottomless grief and brutal glory of war. 

Even as the boombox gets kicked in desperation at one point, it occasionally spits news clips from several wars, Vietnam and Iraq and Ukraine and more. It speaks a sonic backing track, for the soundtrack that actually comes from the house speakers, and what a soundtrack it is, a haunted game of hippy Heardle, as instrumental snippets are interspersed, such as the Stones’ Gimme Shelter or Dylan’s Masters Of War or Black Sabbath’s War Pigs or Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction or All Along The Watchtower, the Hendrix version. 

Just as the boombox feels like an embodied conversation partner, so does the bottle, which probably contains water, but based on Clark’s imbibed and embodied iteration, you believe it is the vodka, gin, or tequila of which he speaks. And no wonder so many of our war veterans turn to the booze, as this story simply oozes the conflicted human compulsions and aches around violence.

We hate war. We love war. We loathe killing. We are killing machines. 

The fiery lust of this relentless monologue is bound not just by the bottle, but by the mania of obedience because war somehow pleases leaders and gods. We want to blame endless war on endless psychologies and theologies, blame the kings, blame the gods. Yet we participate. 

We enlist. We pay taxes. We fly flags on patriotic holidays. 

We profit in ways large and small, with no true conscientious objector exempt from the blood stains on their very hands, no matter our sign-holding protests and hand-wringing pleadings to our elected officials. We are all complicit to some extent, with every gas pump flowing from unsustainable sources and the universal adapter plugged into the endless war economy. 

Those who don’t die as mere children might spend long lives, riddled by nightmares and addictions and gathered around hobo bonfires, telling stories to whomever might listen.

Our small arts and theater community is invited to gather around this fire of fierce local art for only two more nights, Wednesday the 28th and Thursday the 29th, at CPAC, corner of Walnut and Broad, by the Post Office and Dogwood Park. Tickets available online in advance or at the door. Curtain at 7:30pm both nights. 

Alder and Clark present on Facebook

Advance tickets

No comments: