The Odyssey at Park Square Theatre
For three millennia, Homer's The Odyssey has thrilled listeners and readers with the epic adventures of a man lost for 10 years at sea, trying to get home. It's a cornerstone of Western literature, the template for countless stories over the centuries. Within it, there are many iconic moments—the blinding of the cyclops Polyphemus, the Sirens, the slaughter of the 108 suitors—along with a complex tale of love, longing, and reunion.
The Odyssey can be many things. It should never be boring.
Yet I spent most of the time at Park Square's new production of Homer's epic sighing quietly to myself, checking my watch to confirm that time had not stopped. The easy joke would be that it felt like Odysseus's 10-year journey just watching the show. Really, it felt more like a geologic age passed during the show's two-and-a-half-hour run time.
There are plenty of reasons for this. William Randall Beard's adaptation lacks clarity in key moments, and the whole narrative shambles along, often threatening to descend into a confused mess. Richard Cook's pedestrian direction and staging only exacerbate the issues of the script. And apart from a few notable exceptions, the acting is dry and lacks any passion or energy.
The play moves between three plots: Penelope in Ithaca, Telemachus at home and then in Sparta, and Odysseus on his journey. All the while, Athena and Zeus watch over the proceedings, sometimes aiding or interfering, but mainly observing how the characters grow through the play.
Though attempting to add depth to Odysseus's wife Penelope and son Telemachus is admirable, Beard offers very little actual development in their characters. More examples of Penelope's guile in avoiding the advances of the suitors, or more signs of the growing maturity in Telemachus, are needed to justify the additional time the characters get in the story. As of now, they just add to the dragging pace of the play.
Odysseus's adventures, which should be the engine that drives the play, miss the mark as well. While the scene with the cyclops provides one of the night's real highlights and a trip to Hades makes for a spooky end to Act I, the rest of it seems like opportunity lost, ending with a frustrating re-creation of the Sirens. We get a few moments of beautiful music, but no actual representation of who these creatures are or a real sense of the danger that our hero is in by listening to their song.
Cook's staging does the play no favors. Too much emphasis is placed on long-winded speeches to the detriment of the occasional action, which seems to pass in a flash. The scene with the Cyclops—aided by an inspired representation of the creature as a puppet that's all claws and eye—moves with the energy I hoped the rest of the show would exhibit. Overall, the work done by the designers—Joel Sass's simple but effective set, Jason Lee Resler's costumes, and Kirby Moore's props—is top notch and provides some eye-catching moments throughout the play.
On the other end, Moore's staging of the finale, in which the suitors finally get their comeuppance, ends as soon as it gets started, even stretched out with some by-now clichéd slow-motion fighting. That means the audience doesn't get to at least relish the end of some extremely unpleasant characters.
J.C. Cutler gives a typically solid performance as Odysseus, showing us the desire and ingenuity that keep him striving for home even as disaster after disaster befalls him. That makes his moments of humility all the more striking and makes the final reunion with his wife a highlight of the show. He is aided by Jodi Kellogg's measured turn as Penelope. As the years drag by and the suitors bray at her door, the character never loses her resolve, and Kellogg brings this to life in each of her scenes. As Athena, Adia Morris performs with supreme confidence, adding just enough of an otherworldly vibe to make her character feel more than mortal.
Beyond these, the cast performs as if they are going through the motions, adding to the evening's arid, lifeless atmosphere. Sasha Andreev is never convincing in any of Telemachus's phases, be it petulant youth or energized young man.
Maybe that's where the boredom comes from here. Much of the production feels like everyone is just punching the clock and collecting a paycheck, instead of actively engaging one of the greatest adventure stories ever told.
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