The rosy red fingers of dawn steal over the wine dark Aegean Sea. The rising (and eternal) Grecian sun shines down on wandering Odysseus, as he leads his battered fleet home from Troy.
Odysseus! He of the unflagging spirit, unending courage and near-terminal homesickness. Odysseus the intrepid adventurer. In performer/adapter Charlie Bethel‘s wonderful The Odyssey (Walking Shadow Theatre Company, performing at Open Eye Figure Theatre, through April 6) Odysseus may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. And, Lord knows, he lacks luck: he loses his fleet, and all his sailors, every man-jack thereof, and wanders around the known world (not all that big, frankly) for 20 years. But he vies with storms and ill winds and man-eating monsters, lashing himself to the mast to escape the clutches of the evil Sirens, trying always, always, to reach his beloved Ithaca. Home. Despite, indeed because of, his weaknesses and appetites, we identify with and adore this dauntless man.
In this one-person show, Bethel frees Odysseus from the fetters of Homer‘s stultifying iambic and takes him, and us, through a series of marvelous adventures. Odysseus frees his men from the stoned lotus-eaters (“Have you ever really looked at your hand…?”), turns them from hogs back into (prettier) men, engages the ravenous and ugly Cyclops in mortal combat, has cosmic sex with—
All right, all right. I’m not going describe all of our gallant hero’s exploits. Instead I’m simply going to recommend that you see this play. Bethel – impish, lean, charismatic, resourceful and, above all, funny – performs on a cluttered book-filled set, using ladders and various sit-upons to tell his story. (The programs lists no set designer, just a “props wrangler,” Jean Wolff.) Bethel pops the dramaturgical clutch and delivers a 2 hour performance – and he doesn’t even break a sweat. Here is a terrific performer, at the peak of his powers.
Bethel gets an outstanding assist from the light designer, Barry Browning. Browning (lighter-in-residence at the Jungle)’s atmospheric lights mesh perfectly with the music and copious sound effects (designed by Bethel and Michael Carleton). The Odyssey was commissioned and produced at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater (we owe them a debt) and I suspect that Carleton did the sound there as well.
The run is short and the theater small. So call Brown Paper Tickets (1-800-838-3006) and make your rezzies asap.
Next up at Walking Shadow: The Three Musketeers. Adapted by John Heimbuch and directed by Amy Rummenie (WS’s co-artistic directors), this play will be mounted in the Guthrie’s Dowling Theater.
For more info about John Olive, please visit his (recently updated) website.