The Odyssey: Performance Notes
The Odyssey: A Play adapted by Mary Zimmerman from Homer’s epic poem, translated by Robert Fitzgerald.
Directed by Carlo Feliciani Ojeda (4th year directing student)
Mary Zimmerman, renowned director and playwright, transformed the Greek epic of Odysseus and his 20-year journey home into a captivating play in her characteristically witty and irreverent way with contemporary language and made it not just accessible to audiences but fun. She took the approximately 12,000 lines of the original poem and condensed them into an engaging adventure that has it all and more. As a New York Times review stated: “This crafty theater artist has made it quite clear that she is out to entice everyone who has ever been bored to death by coercive school assignments and anyone who is likely to recoil at the mention of Homer.”
Now, Carlo Feliciani Ojeda, a fourth-year School of Drama student, directs his own adaptation of “The Odyssey” as his thesis. And he has set out to make it a theatrical experience, placing his own unique stamp on it. You won’t need Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology” to understand the plot, he says. “‘The Odyssey’—with its 22 actors and more than 50 roles—will show what it takes to go home through various lenses—the actors, the text itself, the production elements, and the audience.” So while the company is performing the text of “The Odyssey,” this production is about these actors doing this story, at this time. “And it won’t feel like you’re just sitting back passively watching a play. Some adventurous audience members will get to sit in special movable seats that are maneuvered by the cast to create a variety of locations and characters in the story.”
Written nearly 3,000 years ago, “The Odyssey,” like any great work of art, remains evergreen and finds echoes in today’s world. Feliciani Ojeda is an immigrant from Venezuela, and that experience imprinted itself powerfully on him. And because Zimmerman doesn’t necessarily have specific stage directions, he has taken his heritage and brought it to bear on his conception of the staging. “The questions that we will come up against are about storytelling … about who gets to tell what story, and how we choose to tell our stories versus being told what stories to tell. The audience will hopefully see that Odysseus’ home in Ithaca is reminiscent of Venezuela; and we’re using elements from Venezuelan culture and history. In other words, we’re drawing on what is happening today.”
What can we take away from this epic adventure? Feliciani Ojeda says, “We’re all on a journey, and it actually takes a lot to go home, and I hope that, as we follow along with Odysseus, we see ourselves in the characters returning home. And as Athena is a guiding light for the hero, we should think about who the guiding light is in our own lives, giving us insights into who we are and showing us the way.”
Written by Mary Zimmerman in 1989, “The Odyssey: A Play” had its professional premiere in 1990 at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company, where Zimmerman is an ensemble member. She is also an artistic associate at the Goodman Theatre. She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1998, won the 2002 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Broadway Play for “Metamorphoses,” and has received more than 20 Joseph Jefferson Awards.