Review: The Sex Life of Achilles
I loved this show from beginning to end. I may be biased in that I am a classicist, the Iliad is my favorite poem, and Achilles is one of my favorite heroes of all-time… but I think anyone would have enjoyed this.
I met the playwright and others before the show, at Bryan’s Bar. They recommended it to me and I told them I would certainly come- how could I not? The playwright and narrator, David LeBarron, told me that he is a Priest of Thetis. I am not sure if he was joking or serious- even if he was joking, he is at least partially serious, considering that he is a bard who so honors the son of Thetis through the holy ancient art of theatre, and he labeled the theatre space as the Temple of Achilles. A fitting and honorable temple. I told him in all seriousness that I am a Priest of Ganymede, and we cheered the bartender.
I’ll just start with the beginning: Before I went into the theatre, I purchased wine. It was a special Malbec which the theatre’s bartender/Ganymede recommended to me. He asked me about it as he had given up drinking. I told him it was quite good- I told him it felt better going down my throat more than it tasted good. He told me that is the tannin. I discover that I enjoy tannin. Perhaps it is sad that I love Dionysos so and do not know as much as I could about wine- I can’t smell very well, so I can’t taste very well, but I do try, and I am learning a little more with every new bottle.
I took the glass into the theatre. I love theatres in which one may drink. I think that is a holy observance. I sat in the front row, the Emperor’s Seat, so that I might have the most pleasing view, the view that the ancients gave to the judges, the Emperor, and Dionysos. I saw the set up-close and personal, and enjoyed being close with the actors as well. Thetis was close for much of the play, and the narrator even came to interact with the audience a bit, sitting two seats away from me. I love that about theatre. I also enjoyed this play’s program- it was, I think, the best program I’ve seen in the Fringe so far. It was arranged as a papyrus scroll, and the descriptions were fantastic. For example, in the Who’s who of Ancient Greece:
Achilles: the hot legend of the Iliad, perfect
Patroclus: his super sexy lover and kissing cousin
Briseis: his gorgeous
slave trophy and wife
Agamemnon: King of Argos, an asshole
Priam: King of Troy, old as shit, lots of kids
Cerberus: the 3 headed dog of Hades and Hogwarts
Zeus: Father and King of the Gods, man-whore
Hera: His meddling wife, Goddess of Prop 8
Aphrodite: Goddess of Love, born from balls/foam
and this was lovely:
Akbar, Jeffrey Wylie, Frank Helmer, TON, And props to Homer (not Simpson) and the other dead dudes. And to Dionysus without whom we mightn’t have made it.
So that gives you an idea of the tone of the show. There were lots of great jokes like that- I love it when writers can take an ancient story and make it accessible to modern audiences. Modern audiences require modern language. Like when the goddesses came to Zeus asking who was most beautiful- the goddess of Love, the daughter sprung from his own head, or his wife? Says the narrator, “Zeus knew he was fucked.”
The premise of the show was that the narrator, Acheanus, “
slave courier of Achilles, no literary basis” retold the story of Achilles to Thetis with the help of Briseis. Briseis was played by Shanna Beauchamp, “Briseis, Fight Choreo, Actor, Educator, Amazon, and lover of words.” She really did look like an Amazon; she was lovely. Thetis (Rebecca Norris, Thetis, Composer) entered in the beginning with a tragic mask, sang awhile, and reclined on pillows at my feet for most of the show to watch the other two perform.
For Acheanus and Briseis, this retelling was bittersweet. They told of how it was necessary that they should tell this story, so that they could remember a man they had so loved, so that, through the bard’s work, he might remain immortal. Through reconstructing their memories of him, it was like keeping their lover present with them. As another reviewer said, it was like therapy.
Acheanus said he would begin his modern retelling of the story of Achilles and started with, “Yo, yo, I speak of Achilles-” then stopped and shook his head, signalling that he would not try to rap, and we all laughed very much. Yeah, I wouldn’t have wanted to hear poor rapping from a white man trying to look cool. No, he stuck to what he did well. He was funny and touching.
Though the play was titled the Sex Life of Achilles, it talked about more than sex. It spoke of much of his mythology. Yet, unlike in the Iliad wherein it will simply say something such as “Achilles loved Patroclus more than all others”, the romance was explored, which I love. I’m a romance kind of girl. It explored his relationship with Patroclus, Briseis, and also Troilus. Acheanus said that when Achilles spent an entire night in the temple of Apollo experiencing tantric sex with Troilus, that the stars in the heavens shone more brightly- because they wanted to lean in and spy. How beautiful.
Acheanus and Briseis sometimes explored movement, which, as I have said, I adore and think should be a bigger part of art and life. Through movement they expressed the sexual relationships of Achilles, and also a bit of violence. It was truly beautiful to watch their bodies interact with each other, the rhythm, and gravity onstage.
If I had one criticism I suppose it would be that of the role of Thetis in the beginning. She was, of course, serving as the inspiring goddess as happens in great artistic works, though it is perhaps unusual to have Thetis herself instead of a Muse. She was inspiring Acheanus to do this. However, she was not only inspiring him, but forcing him. Now, this is understandable. Sometimes the gods force one to take actions such as this. And with a goddess of the sea, this can be particularly tempestuous. Yet her anger was so emphasized early on I found myself losing connection with her character- I would hope for a goddess to be slightly more enlightened than to focus so on her own anger. But, well, I suppose we all become lost in our emotions, do we not? Sometimes we all identify so heavily with our emotions that we think we are them, and that they are neverending, and that our wrath may be visited upon others. It is just that I felt no divine connection to the goddess at that point. Later, it would improve- I would feel more empathy for her as I watched her play with her child son and lament his death.
I enjoyed that the actors played with the idea that divinity is jealous of mortality. The immortal is jealous of the mortal, who, having such frail bodies in a single short lifetime, feel everything very, very strongly. This is true of all of us, who have immortal souls in mortal bodies. This is a daily reality, which I felt touched by as I watched the artistic exploration.
I felt touched by a great deal of this play. Why, by the end, I could not really stop myself from crying. No matter how many times one has read the Iliad in English or Greek, it is so much different to see actors reenact events onstage. It is so much more real. To see as the fabled war from those thousands of years ago is played out again in all its terrible bittersweet tragedy, to see as a goddess mother loses her beautiful boy, to see as an old king comes to beg a young man for the body of his son, to see as lovers love so strongly and then lose. I thank everyone involved in this play for making this possible. I recommend this play to anyone and wish there were more like it.