The Quantum crew’s production of An Odyssey might be one of the company’s most creative ones yet.
Reviewed by Bob Hoover
With thanks to Stephen King, “Everything old is new again.” And you can’t get much older than The Odyssey, the classical epic which historians date to the seventh or eighth century BCE Greece.
The story is full of possibilities — the journey of discovery for the protagonist and the reader. Its spinoffs are myriad, including that notorious novel that covers 24 hours in the life of the very un-Odysseus-like Leopold Bloom in 20th-century Dublin.
Playwright Jay Ball has written the latest version for Quantum Theatre. An Odyssey focuses on its hero’s inner journey. A voyage that strips the mighty Odysseus of his godlike stature and shows us his flaws – cruelty, trickery, betrayal, and foolishness.
This macho hero of The Iliad is seen through the lenses of women, including his long-suffering wife, Penelope. And the young princess Nausicaa who finds the shipwrecked, disheveled Odysseus on her island.
The young is Ball’s guide to the adventures and misadventures of Odysseus after he and his crew sail triumphantly home from Troy only to lose their way. Now alone, the Greek warrior seeks her help to return at last to Ithaca by impressing her with his version of events.
Nausicaa, played by Erika Strasburg as a naïve Valley Girl, becomes a witness to a condensed version of The Odyssey. Following “the legend” (Quantum veteran Sam Turich) from his blinding of the Cyclops (Sam Lothard) to his bedding (in squeaky lawn chairs) of Circe, played by Catherine Gowl. Gowl delivers a revelatory performance as the immortal seductress with a sultry way with a song.
The playwright wants to take a serious direction to the classic saga, revealing Odysseus as a flawed “free” man who chooses to roam the world without responsibility. Even working as a migrant farm hand picking olives on Kalamata. That’s one of Ball’s many corny jokes that threaten to turn his work from thoughtful to farce.
Director Jed Allen Harris keeps a steady hand on the tiller, though, and the play holds its course through more than 100 uninterrupted minutes that keep our attention. Turich captures the ambiguity of Ball’s Odysseus, at turns threatening and afraid, a liar and truth-teller.
He’s like a character from the works of the forgotten novelist Thomas Wolfe, who can’t go home again until the suddenly insightful Nausicaa drags him off his Trojan horse and into reality. “You’ve wasted years of your life,” she accuses him, forcing him to admit that he’s ashamed to go home.
The Quantum crew’s production of An Odyssey might be one of the company’s most creative ones yet. The ice rink becomes the ocean dotted with islands linked by ropes and waving sheets strung from poles with the sounds of the crashing sea in the background. Credit the experienced Narelle Sissons with the set design, with talented help from Mindy Eshelman on costumes and installations, C. Todd Brown on lighting, and Joe Pine on sound.
The supporting cast in a variety of roles includes Shammen McCune, Nancy McNulty, and Grace Vensel as a kind of Marx Sisters. The previously mentioned Lothard plays Hermes as a UPS delivery man and Nausicaa’s father the loquacious King Alcinous, who delivers the reluctant Odysseus to his equally reluctant wife Penelope, Gowl now covered in matronly robes.
Because it’s “An Odyssey,” not the original, much is missing, especially the role of Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, and the visit to Hades is too brief. A spoiler: The audience is asked to make its own journey to watch the play’s conclusion as Penelope and her imperfect husband try to reunite.
The play’s imperfect as well, but quite entertaining and leaves us with another interpretation of this timeless story.
TIP: Wear walking shoes.
Quantum Theatre production of An Odyssey, playing until Sept. 5 at the Schenley Park ice rink | For tickets call 412-362-1713 or visit www.quantumtheatre.com