History persists in “An Iliad”: Toledo’s Paul Causman is Retelling Homer’s Epic, Again

. April 5, 2017.
Paul Causman will bring storytelling full circle during the one-man show 'An Iliad', Denis O’Hare, Lisa Peterson and Robert Fagle’s 2012 modern retelling of Homer's classic.
Paul Causman will bring storytelling full circle during the one-man show 'An Iliad', Denis O’Hare, Lisa Peterson and Robert Fagle’s 2012 modern retelling of Homer's classic.

Paul Causman relishes his yearly role as Scrooge in annual production of A Christmas Carol, but soon he will take the stage to for quite a different performance. Instead of becoming a character with a name so notorious it became an adjective, Causman’s role as the storyteller in An Iliad— 

“Takes on a life of its own,” the actor mused. “An Iliad has been conceived in a variety of ways— from the storyteller represented as a wounded soldier, to the lead in a rock and roll version… I knew I wanted to perform it again, because there was so much left to explore.”

With 3,000 years of history on his side, Causman found fast fellowship. As he and director Barbara Barkan rehearsed for the Actors Collaborative Toledo reading, The Valentine Theatre picked up the production for its upcoming season.

Accessing history

If you can’t remember reading Homer’s war epic in high school— or skipped the assignment in favor of SparkNotes— there’s no need to study up before Causman’s performance on the weekend of Friday, April 7.

“It’s deliberately called An Iliad because it’s not The Iliad; it’s a modern retelling,” says Causman, adding that the play is only “a sliver” of Homer’s epic, and strictly details the end of The Trojan War.

“It draws on parallels of everyday experiences. The same passions that motivated these ancient Greek characters are what we experience today. Homer’s epic was a war poem, and this is very much an anti-war show. These characters have the same kinds of addictions to violence and destruction that we see today.”  



The performance at The Valentine will be a reading, but having a year to prepare afforded Causman extra time to arrange multimedia resources to make the play more accessible. A slideshow of photos helps illustrate the relationships between the script and contemporary life.

For example, modern soldiers might be displayed during conversations about bodies on ancient battlefields. “We want people to see similarities today with the story from three millennia ago,” said Causman.

Similar to the script, which skips from contemporary language to dactylic hexameter, the music will also help guide the historical lense: “Burton Beerman, who played the Muse last year, has written all the music, some of which he will play on primitive instruments on stage. He’s done a great job of composing music that bridges that gap. The music might start contemporary, and then morph into something rhythmic, then atonal and rather primitive. It’s beautiful.”

Timing timelessness

An Iliad spends little time on the surface, but leaves nothing buried. Ultimately, the story is about a storyteller seemingly trapped at the start.

“In this play, were talking about that catharsis, and ultimately, violence and destruction is the result of it. But there are other means to catharsis, and the play asks that question,” says Causman. “The pacifist message asks, how do we deal with catharsis in ways beside violence?”

Even if he found an answer, the storyteller’s tale— one of love, life, death, birth, violence, destruction, revenge and war— is still one of beginnings, and as long as it’s a human story it will be unfinished. Experiences come full circle as the storyteller ruminates on persisting throughout history; humanity’s timeline dissolves as themes prove timeless.

In An Iliad, timelessness establishes modern relevance— but Causman knows audiences relate differently to those same themes in the play’s predecessor.

“Classics, like The Iliad, ultimately become precious to us— distant, inaccessible and unrelatable,” said Causman. “But obviously they stand the test of time because they speak to universal humanity— and that hasn’t changed. They speak to our place in the universe and our existence. What’s wonderful about An Iliad is that [it draws parallels for us so] it helps us realize those classics. We see how deeply poignant they are, and have always been.”

To Causman, An Iliad has established itself as “continually relevant,” but has found the strength of that relevance to fluctuate.

“The play feels much more immediate and palpable this year. You see rage building in building— I see it more and more than even a year ago. Talking about these subjects feels much more necessary,” reflects Causman. “Last year, I thought much more of how An Iliad was a beautiful interpretation. Its relevance felt more hypothetical and theoretical. Today, it has real meaning.”

8pm on Friday, April 7 & Saturday, April 8. 2pm on Sunday, April 9. $20/general admission, $10/student admission with valid I.D.
The Valentine Theatre Studio A
410 Adams St., 419-242-2787. valentinetheatre.com