'Odyssey' gets a new look at Park Square

William Randall Beard's adaptation of The Odyssey, which is currently finishing previews and opens this Friday at Park Square Theatre, may not be exactly the story you remember reading in school.

Though still set in ancient Greece, you will find more rounded characters throughout, from an Odysseus whose travels help him mature to a Penelope bursting with the drive to keep her state afloat in the absence of her husband and king.

"To anyone who might object to the liberties I'm taking, I would simply say that I am not doing anything different than what Homer did: adapting a series of old stories--they had been in circulation for centuries before he gathered them--for a contemporary audience," Beard says.

Beard's previous work with Park Square includes an adaptation of Mary Stuart (crafted with Matt Sciple), which played in 2003. Using his already strong interest in Greek mythology, Beard pitched a show that fills two roles: an evening production as part of the main stage season and one during the day for the student series.

"Taking liberties with Homer was essential, if for no other reason than Richard (Cook, Park Square's artistic director) wouldn't allow me to write a six-hour miniseries," Beard says. "I eliminated many of the Odyssey's adventures and conflated a number of others, but I knew that I had to keep all the key stories: the giant Cyclops, the seductive Circe, the Sirens. They are all there."

Beyond that, Beard wanted to give the show a contemporary feel, so Odysseus is not just moving toward home, but into maturity. "He begins as an arrogant, self-involved, macho warrior, with a sense of entitlement, always blaming the gods. Through his trials, he is humbled and becomes a man worthy of the noble Penelope," Beard says.

Other changes include increasing the role of Telemachus, Odysseus' son. This was done, in part, so that those attending youth matinees would have a contemporary as a main character. The son also goes on his own odyssey, growing from adolescence to adulthood. Penelope herself has become stronger. "In this version, she is every bit as strong and as clever as Odysseus. She has run Ithaca for 20 years, for heaven's sake. Her waiting is every bit as dramatic as any of the men's adventure," Beard says.

So far, the audience reaction to the show has been strong, Beard reports.

"I have attended most of the previews, because we have still been working on the show. We have continued tweaking lines, even as late as the Tuesday and Wednesday before opening," Beard says. "The audience is responding with a great deal more laughter. That was a little disconcerting at first, until I realized that it was mark of how engaged they were with the story. They aren't laughing at jokes, per se, but are responding to the characters and the situations."

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