THERE'S NOTHING TO DO here but tell the truth: I had to pee really, really badly for the duration of Portland Center Stage's one man-show An Iliad. I checked my watch constantly throughout the intermission-less show; the scene where fountain sound effects tinkle musically as actor Joseph Graves described the gardens of Troy was like a watery hell designed just for me.
So my full attention was not with An Iliad—save for one riveting moment, when the lights dim on Graves' recitation of the events of the Trojan War, and he quietly connects the story he's telling to the global history of war. He had me then, my protesting bladder temporarily silenced, as he delivered the only litany in An Iliad's creative retelling of a story that's notorious for its endless lists of men and ships.
The determination of playwrights Denis O'Hare and Lisa Peterson to place the Trojan War in the context of other conflicts could easily have felt heavy-handed, were it not for the off-balance pathos Graves brings to the show. The narrator is an old man, and he drinks too much; but the reason he drinks is that his heart is broken. As he tells half-remembered tales of Hector and Achilles, he lingers poignantly on his favorite characters, on the nobility and the waste of it all.
Take some advice before you see the show: Read the Wikipedia entry on The Iliad, because if your Homer is rusty some of the names and allegiances may jumble. And one more thing: There's no intermission. Don't forget to pee.