Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Play: Community Theatre

The Odyssey; By Homer (unaccredited in the program book) Adaptation/Music/New Lyrics by Todd Almond, Original Concept and Direction by Lear DeBessonet, Directer by Marya Sea Kaminiski. Seattle Rep, Sept. 8-10 (Yep, it's over).

When last we left the the Seattle Rep, they had ripped out most of their seats to turn the venerable Bagley Wright into a disco for David Byrne's Here Lies Love, an opus about Imelda Marcos. Now they return for a one-weekend-only event (sorry folks), a rendition of Homer's Odyssey. And in doing so it pushed the borders of modern theatre back in different ways.

One of the challenges of modern theater is manpower. You've seen it - plays that are four to five actors, tops, dealing with tight little stories or people in multiple roles. This version of the Odyessy, done through Public Works Seattle, is one huge crowd scene. The cast lists 80+ characters, not counting a host of cameo artists (more on them later). Four of the cast are Equity actors, the rest volunteers of various stripes. The result is you can have huge vibrant mobs moving across the stage and a variety of voices being heard. This is pretty darn impressive.

Oh, and did I mention this was a musical? Yeah, musical. One part Hamilton, two parts Disney rhyming schemes. And it all worked.

The plot you should already know. Odysseus is en route back from the Trojan War and gets delayed for a decade. Wife Penelope is cooling her heels back in Ithaca fending off a bunch of suitors and raising her son Telemachus. Odysseus is fighting to get back home to her. Cyclops, Circe, sirens, whirlpool, monster. You know the drill, right?

And all of this is here, but what makes it work is that the focus is placed on community, both in Ithaca and for the crew of Odysseys' ship. The massive tide of people are not a mere Greek chorus, but have their own voices and their own moments. I was amazed time and again by the strength of the voices in song and acting. Yeah, a lot of it was punching over their weight class, but it was impressive.

And there are the cameos. Circe is played by a drag queen that tempts man with burgers from Dick's and Pagliacci pizza. She's backed up by a pair of flamenco dancers. Small children are ghosts from Hades. A symphonic orchestra sets up for the voyage home to Ithaca. And the Seahawks Blue Thunder drum corps helps wrap up the entire deal with the suitors. They appear as guest stars for a number or a scene, then move on. But they are part of the community as well.

And the Equity Actors? Terrence Achie is an amazing Odysseus - strong-voiced and sympathetic, both crafty hero and doubting human. Justin Hertas last showed up in his original musical Lizard Boy and serves as narrator/master of ceremonies, and creates the glue between the present and past. Alexandra Tavres (last seen in Constellations) is Penelope, holding the stage and Odyesseus' equal and keeping the motorcycle-jacketed suitors at bay. Sarah Russell is the leader of a tripartite Calliope (with Rheanna Atendido and Jala Harper) who are our musical Greek Chorus. What is missing here is the direct presence of the gods, though they send in messages and help from time to time. And that's OK, because there's not a lot of room left on the stage for them.

This is an amazingly audacious production, born out of the idea of community coming together in the theatre. This is theatre of and for the people. Yes, it has a happy ending, and everyone gets a curtain call in a celebration that spills off the stage and into the audience. This is a theater taking big risks, and even should the rest of season settle into more traditional fare, it is an excellent start.

And keep your eyes peeled should they try something like this again.

More later.