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A Conversation with Jim Milton, Director of “Kings: The Siege of Troy,” a new stage version of The Iliad of Homer, Books I & II

March 24, 2011

Before I tell you about Jim Milton and this brave and fierce adaptation/production of the first two books of The Iliad I want to say a few words about David Nevin.

This morning when I opened up my computer I had a few extra minutes so I took a quick look at the Arts Section of the New York Times. Nothing much interested me until I saw the mention in the “Arts Beat” sidebar of David Nevin’s death.

I’ve known David for fifteen, maybe twenty years. I can’t say we were buddies though he did come to my house once for a picnic. No, our shared experience was as fellow members of the Greenwich YMCA, our paths crossing when we worked out or shared the sauna. We talked about history and writing and storytelling and the art of the interview. Though most at the “Y” knew he was an author, knew about his novels about America’s westward expansion, I doubt many knew about his being one of the frontline reporters during the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. It was during one of  our sauna talks that he told me, with great pride, about this time in his life.

Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, I was thinking of David not very long ago. Though I hadn’t seen David in many years–his Parkinson’s (the disease that finally felled him) eventually made it too difficult for him to get around–a few of the “Y” old-timers stayed in touch with him and would pass my greetings on to him. Even so I hadn’t heard a word about him in some time. Then, there he was, on the same Arts “page” where is books had been so favorably reviewed over the years.

He was a smart man…a man with wisdom. I always felt he understood the folly of others and would offer up a generous, knowing smile when he saw it. He was kind man…a gentle man. David thank you for being generous with me.

Am I wrong in thinking that there are ten things produced based on The Odyssey for every single production of The Iliad. Here are a few things I can think of that use The Odyssey as foundation: Movies like After Hours; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Cold Mountain–and songs like Steely Dan’s, Home at Last or Cream’s, Tales of Brave Ulysses–these are just off the top of my head. With The Iliad I’m hard pressed to go beyond the movie, Troy and Led Zeppelin’s, Achilles Last Stand.

I think it’s fairly simple to understand the reason for the disparity. As great as The Iliad is–and let there be no misunderstanding about this–IT IS A GREAT PIECE OF LITERATURE…it is still a story about war. Yes, no doubt it is about much more: The abuse of power, the absurdity of war, the love of a friend…and the love of a father–but so much of the power of the piece is generated in the battle scenes which, even after twenty-five hundred years, are still some of the most brutal and visceral ever written. But the Odyssey is about something with which everyone can identify: GOING HOME.

All that being said I can now report there IS a play being performed at The Workshop Theater (312 West 36th Street, fourth floor) that runs through April 3 that is based on The Iliad. The title of the play is Kings: The Siege of Troy and to be more accurate it is based on the first TWO BOOKS of The Iliad.

Above I used the terms “brave” and “fierce” to describe the experience I felt when I saw it the other night. If you listened to the conversation tonight with Jim Milton I think you’ll understand why I used those particular words.

What follows next is material culled from Jonathan Slaff’s press release for King’s.

KINGS: THE SIEGE OF TROY

Three theaters team up to present new stage version of “The Iliad of Homer, Books I & II” as adapted by famed English poet Christopher Logue.

Production is adapted for the stage and directed by Jim Milton.

The Workshop Theater Company, 312 West 36th Street, Fourth Floor East, btwn 8th/9th Avenues.

Presented by  Handcart Ensemble, Verse Theater Manhattan and WorkShop Theater Company

Opened March 11 and runs through April 3, 2011

Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM; Sundays, 3PM

$18 general admission

Box office:  SMARTTIX (212) 868-4444,  www.workshoptheater.org

Running time 1:15.

Handcart Ensemble, Verse Theater Manhattan and WorkShop Theater Company are teaming up to present “Kings: The Siege of Troy,” a new stage version of The Iliad of Homer, Books I & II as adapted by noted English poet Christopher Logue.  The production is adapted for the stage and directed by Jim Milton. Two actors in modern dress (Pictured here: Dana Watkins and J. Eric Cook) enact all of the characters, using Logue’s savage poetry to create the unsparing world of Bronze Age Greece. Performances are March 10 to April 3 at Workshop Theater, 312 West 36th Street, Manhattan.

Christopher Logue’s sprawling, cinematic account of the Iliad, almost fifty years in the making, has been described as “one of the major achievements of postwar English poetry” (Paris Review). This production centers on the conflicts between the Greek king, Agamemnon, and its fiercest warrior, Achilles, in the ninth year of the siege at Troy. With the Greek army encamped outside the walls of Troy, these two vainglorious figures clash over a captured woman. Achilles’ bruised honor, the exhaustion of battle and disease among the troops all combine against the Greek war effort, but the gods’ intervention ensures that the campaign survives, culminating in a fierce assault on Troy.

More than twenty characters, Greeks, Trojans and Immortals, will be acted by two actors in contemporary dress, allowing the audience to focus on Mr. Logue’s savage invocation of a world of terrible beauty and pain. The production was developed by Verse Theater Manhattan, which is devoted exclusively to verse dramas, primarily stage adaptations of works by leading poets, and styles itself after Poets Theater Cambridge of the 50’s.

Jim Milton (director, adaptation, sound design) directed several productions at the NY Shakespeare Festival, including “Dexter Creed” (by and starring Michael Moriarty). Regional work includes productions at Cincinnati Playhouse, StageWest, the Magic Theatre and ACT in San Francisco.  He has directed for National Public Radio; Off-off Broadway at La MaMa, Theater for the New City and Soho Rep, among others; and has been a resident director at New Dramatists. Milton has been the principal director of Verse Theater Manhattan since 2001, staging ten of its productions, including Mr. Logue’s “War Music.”  He was dramaturg for Handcart Ensemble’s production of “Homer’s Odyssey,” winnowing Simon Armitage’s BBC radio script from four hours to under two. He recently completed a screenplay based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Pat Hobby Stories.”

Check here to listen to my conversation with Jim Milton.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Gideon Fountain permalink
    April 20, 2011 9:31 am

    Oh….all RIGHT, I’ll read “Illiad”! (And I may give “Dream West” another look, too.)

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