I realized late yesterday that I gave short shrift to “The Odyssey,” just talking about its setting and not the show itself. Chalk it up to getting back into the swing of things coming off of a holiday weekend.
According to the Wikipedia, Odysseus means ‘trouble’ in Greek. I had been planning to use this factoid as part of my review because, while the Greek hero certainly had trouble thrown at him, he was also responsible for a fair amount of the trouble he faced. Similarly, the Sycamore Rouge production has some challenges thrust upon it, but also some of its problems are self-generated. Even so, as I mentioned in my review, there were many scenes where I got caught up in the action and the drama unfolding on stage. And I applaud the actors and production people who make the production work as well as it does, despite the challenges.
Certainly the trains are an issue. The performance I attended was interrupted 3 times by a train passing. The first time was kind of charming, the second time was still endurable, but by the third time, I was getting annoyed. The Rouge can’t control the trains, I know, so I don’t blame them. But I can’t deny that I found a fourth interruption in the action (including intermission) detrimental to my enjoyment of the experience.
I spent the first act of the show as close as possible to the stage. For the second act, I moved back to a back row on the lawn and that’s when I started hearing music from elsewhere. Again, not Sycamore Rouge’s fault but distracting for me.
I mention the episodic nature of the story. Much of “The Odyssey” unfolds as a series of misadventures and a dramatic arc such as one might expect in a modern-day drama doesn’t quite cohere. This also hampers character development to some extent. Some of Odysseus’s motivations didn’t quite work for me. Where does his pride in taunting the Cyclops come from that causes him such trouble with Poseidon? And after being away from home for decades, could he really keep his identity hidden from his son and wife for so long? The last quarter or so of the show where Odysseus has returned to Ithica takes entirely too long in my opinion.
There were some minor things that misfired at the performance I saw. The red ribbons signifying deaths were a great idea that were a mixed bag in practice – I didn’t even notice them until later in the show when the ribbon was curiously hanging out of Cyclops’ eye before it had been gouged. The occasionally awkward dialogue prompted some presentational performances, a bit stilted and forced at times. And there was a little pet peeve of mine that got tweaked when the gang of “suitors” at Odysseus’s home were often laughing and carrying on with no clear motivation. When characters just look at each other and start guffawing, it always takes me out of the action.
But putting all of that aside, there was plenty to cheer in the production. I enjoyed director kb saine’s modernizing touches – the “eyes on you” gesture Ms. Lewis mentioned, the come-ons from the Sirens, etc. Having the actor who played Zeus (Risegun Bennett-Olomidum) also provide sound effects enhanced the atmosphere at many key points. In my review, I called out Ms. Linas for her performance, which I enjoyed a great deal, but I did not have space to heap adequate praise on Ashley Maurisa Davis who infused her roles as Eurycleia and Calypso with delightful liveliness (including a musical “island” accent for the latter). Shanea Taylor brought her usual forcefulness to bear as the petulant Poseiden and Claire Biggers was entrancing throughout as narrator and Athena.
Zac Moon was a prime example of an actor who overcame the boundaries of the dialogue and made his Telemachus the most believable and natural character in the show. He was the reason I enjoyed many of the Ithica scenes the most. And of course, Jeff Cole managed to be the wild range of things the story required him to be convincingly and gracefully. He was prideful, sad, tormented, triumphant, tricky, and determined. And in perhaps the most effective scene of the show, he was wrenched emotionally as he chose between taking his boat into a whirlpool that would kill them all or into the clutches of a 6-headed beast that would devour one crew member for each head.
I hope the Rouge continues to do shows at Battersea Park because it is a beautiful location and there is a dearth of nice outdoor venues in the area (the Dell, Agecroft, and…am I missing something?) Next summer’s planned Battersea show is “Darker Face of the Earth,” which sounds like a perfect convergence of ancient source material, more modern situations, and an appropriate setting (i.e., an antebellum plantation). So I’ll definitely be back.