‘An Iliad’ continues Pgh Public Theater Masterpiece season

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Teagle F. Bougere said his role as The Poet in “An Iliad,” a new adaptation of the Greek poet Homer’s epic 24-chapter poem about the Trojan war, is a challenge that he is ready, willing and able to tackle.

“It’s a banquet for an actor, telling all these stories on stage alone for 90 minutes; I’ve never done a one-man show before. The acting partner is the audience,” explained Bougere who hails from California but currently resides in New York.

Written by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson in 2005, it’s set in the ninth year of the decade-long fruitless Trojan War. It opens with Achilles feeling fed up, while peace-loving Hector is dedicated to defending his city, but is weary of the continuing bloodshed.

The play retells the poem in a way that honors the lyrical language and spirit of the original “Iliad,” but makes it glaringly current to Americans and the war in Afghanistan. Bougere’s character brings to life the bleakness of ruined civilizations, fallen soldiers, bereaving parents and loved ones, and how blind rage can overwhelm people and cloud their judgment.

“More people are familiar with Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ and I look forward to introducing it to audiences,” Bougere said. “The play is clearly an anti-war play and it’d be great if people left the show contemplating that, but the play also deals with us and how we react to situations and how out raged we get and how much outrage is really necessary. People will go away thinking. Period.”

Prior to taking on “An Iliad,” for a year and a half Bougere performed the title role in “Invisible Man,” a role which he originated. The show was adapted from Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel of the same name about racial identity. In the role, Bougere never left the stage for three hours.
He says that prepared him for the role of The Poet in “An Iliad.”

“The Poet was there during the war, he’s a real person who’s been through the war and he’s tired of singing the song of war, but he’s addicted to it. He hopes that he’ll never have to sing that song again and he hopes that the war will stop,” said Bougere who said he used pieces of people he knows to create the various characters.

“An Iliad” gives Bougere the opportunity to connect with the Pittsburgh audience in an intimate way.

“I love the theater and I love being on stage. I love the audience. There’s nothing like it. It’s a high. It’s a rush. and it’s thrilling. The play doesn’t come alive until there’s an audience,” said Bougere, who visited the Steel City once before in 2008 when he and a friend rode bicycles from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C.

Bougere got bit by the acting bug after seeing fellow actor and friend Delroy Lindo on Broadway as Harold Loomis in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” August Wilson’s second installment in his Pittsburgh Cycle of plays, which chronicled the Black experience.

Years later, Bougere would get the great honor of performing in two plays that Lindo directed.
“Delroy Lindo is a wonderful actor and he’s one of the best directors that I’ve ever worked with. He’s an actor’s director. He’s all about truth,” Bougere said.

Since that time, Bougere has been a fixture in the acting arena. He played Caliban in “The Tempest” on Broadway with Sir Patrick Stewart and as Asagai in “A Raisin in the Sun” alongside Phylicia Rashad and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs. His television credits include “A Gifted Man,” “The Big C,” “Cosby,” and seven episodes of the “Law & Order” franchise.

In 2012, “An Iliad” won the Obie and Lucille Lorel Awards. The show runs at the O’Reilly Theater, in Pittsburgh’s Theater Square,  now through April 6. Show times are Tuesdays at 7 p.m. and Wednesdays through Saturdays  at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $23 to $55 and $15.75 for students age 26 and younger (with valid ID). Tickets can be purchased by calling 412-316-1600 or visiting http://www.ppt.org.

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