What does Homer's nearly-3,000-year-old tale of a warrior's journey home have to do with contemporary life? Meat & Potato Theatre's fascinating adaptation suggests that it's more than you think. ---
Tobin Atkinson and Marynell Hinton turn this new version of The Odyssey into a combination of epic adventure and a simple, human tale of self-knowledge. At the outset, Ithaca's queen Penelope (Rebecca Marcotte) is fending off the suitors trying to get her to re-marry 20 years after her husband and king, Odysseus (Mark Fossen), set off to fight in the Trojan War. Penelope holds out hope that Odysseus still lives -- and it turns out she's correct. But he has endured many perils in his 10-year quest to return home -- most of which we see in flashback -- and has learned much along the way.
Atkinson, who also directed, employs some slick stagecraft in the Rose Wagner Centre's intimate Studio Theatre to tell the story: projected shadow to evoke the giant Cyclops, Polyphemus; eerie lighting as Odysseus and his crew venture into the land of the dead. The minimalist costumes also prove wonderfully versatile at allowing the cast members -- also including Josh Thoemke, Andy Rindlisbach and Alexa McPherson -- to play multiple roles.
But the real surprise in this Odyssey comes in the emotional connection it establishes between its characters. Fossen is terrific in conveying Odysseus psychological journey from eager fighter to penitent husband, and there are great poignant moments between him and Rindlisbach as Odysseus' son, Telemachus. In the middle of an epic tale, Atkinson, Hinton and company find the story of a man who has taken a long time to figure out how to be a better husband and father -- and it's a resonant thematic approach.
Not for nothing, this is also a piece of theater that feels tailor made for comically cliche critical plaudits. By turns thrilling, funny and sincerely human, The Odyssey takes a journey far from some dry academic concept of the material.