Monday, July 17, 2017

Homer’s, The Odyssey—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

Home is Where the Heart is

This classic Greek tale of the aftermath of the Trojan Wars from Homer is translated by Robert Fitzgerald and adapted & directed by Mary Zimmerman  It is playing at the Allen Elizabethan outdoor Theatre, downtown Ashland, through October 14 (in repertory).  For more information, go to their site at or call 800-219-8161.

The author, Thomas Wolfe, has famously said, “You can’t go home again.”  A bit of a misnomer, as you can find the “place” but not the “spirit” that it represents.  What is so important about finding home is that you are searching for your roots, your innocence, childhood in all its glory, no responsibilities.  It represents more than a place but a state of mind.  So when Odysseus (Ulysses) begin his search, after winning the Trojan Wars, nothing will stop him from getting back to his family, not even the gods, or a trip through the Underworld (Hades/Hell).  And so this journey will take us all from the depths of despair to the summit of joy, to rekindle, recreate, revive this long dormant sense of one’s true purpose.

It seems that on his home soil of Ithaca, his patient wife, Penelope (Kate Hurster) and her reactive son, Telemachus (Benjamin Bonenfant), are still awaiting his return after many years.  But certain laws and customs must be followed, one of which is that a woman can’t inherit property & goods of her husband so must re-marry in order to regain her status (shades of “Beauty and the Beast”).  So several suitors, (akin to Aussie tribesmen or Samurai warriors) are anxiously awaiting her answer to their proposals, chief among them is Etenous (Jon Cates).

Meanwhile Odysseus (Christopher Donahue) has found a patron in the goddess, Athena (Christiana Clark), who takes on several guises throughout the story to aid in his journey.  But other goddesse,s like Calypso (Amy Newman) and Circe (Miriam A. Laube), have more than a passing interest in him and want to keep this traveler all for their own.  Other gods, chiefly, the petulant Poseidon (Danforth Comins), have grudges against him and attempt to thwart his attempt to reach home.  And proud Zeus (Daniel T. Parker), the chief god, seems ambivalent to the whole proceedings.

He will have friends like Menelaus (Howie Seago), Alcinous (Armando McClain) and his daughter, Nausicaa (Britney Simpson), an old friend, Eumaeus (Richard Howard), et al. that will aid him on his sojourn.  Others, like the Cyclops (Parker, again), the Sirens, the suitors, et. al., will try to distract him from his mission.  Like all fables, lessons will be learned but at a cost.  And the old adage, “there’s no place like home,” will ring true.

The is a very complex tale but, being that it is told in a story-telling fashion, the simplest of settings can be the most elaborate of surroundings because of the some very talented people in creating the atmosphere for us and allowing us to participate, by filling in the blanks by the use of our imagination (for those of us who still employ that element, instead of relying on artificial means of forcing images into our head).  Zimmerman has a monumental task of both adapting for the stage and directing this extremely complex story for us and has done an outstanding job of both!

Another major artist to be touted is the choreographer of the Suitors’ and Naucicaa’s dances, Kirstin Hara.  They are a show in themselves and add much to the success of this production!  Another small but touching scene is when Odysseus reunites with his old dog Argos.  Although amusing, at first, as it is a puppet, it soon becomes very touching (for me because dogs have been my best friends throughout my life) and so this one hits that teary note for me.

The actors are all very strong.  Donahue, as the lead character, is unique in his portrayal because he underplays much of it, which is very convincing and compelling.  It allows the audience to infuse their own feelings into his plight and therefore becomes more personal for us.  Clark plays many guises of mortal beings and, with essentially no change in appearance except her own talent, transforms before your eyes into another persona.  And, Howard, the pro, always shines in any show he does here and is very moving as the old retainer of the hero.

I highly recommend this show but know that it is over 3 hours long so be patient (and comfortable) as it is worth the time.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Ashland Experience:  OSF

I have experienced this unique company since the late 60’s, when I became a member of the acting company for two years.  Bill Patton and the Founder, Dr. Angus Bowmer, were prominent then.  I came back over the years then as an audience member.  And, over the last five years, as a reviewer.  Of course, it went through some growing pains, evolved and now is a first-class company (and Tony winner for regional theatre).  The OSF family has grown by leaps and bounds over these years.  One thing this company has (that some professional companies do not) is Warmth.  It is a feeling that, whether an actor, backstage artist, usher or audience, you feel as though you belong…they’re family.

The experience you have is not only that you are you seeing first-rate productions but, through tours of the facilities, backstage talks, green shows, et. al., you are participating in an unforgettable event.  And when you observe the talent involved of designers, administration, Tutor Guild and actors, you have to be impressed.  Just consider that a relatively small ensemble (compared to the number of roles demanded in these productions) not only have to be fine actors to play any age, but also have to sing, dance, play musical instruments, fence, do acrobatics, and many other skills, so you can be assured that these folks are the best of the best and this company can rival any in the world—bar none!  Amen.

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