Entertainment Central Pittsburgh – Quantum Theater kicks off their 30th Anniversary season with Jay Ball’s adaptation of the classic Greek poem, the Odyssey, which he has titled An Odyssey. And isn’t that a perfectly titled show for all of us right now, as we are certainly in an odyssey of our times with covid and all of the anti-science rhetoric.
An Odyssey began when director Jed Allen Harris mentioned his “notion” of adapting the Odyssey to Quantum Theatre founder and artistic director Karla Boos. Ball, when asked, at first was reluctant to create an adaptation of the Odyssey. Boos mentioned that the story and it’s misogyny and cruelty should be seen as a problem for modern times and not an answer. Ball signed on after further researching the idea and receiving encouragement from Boos.
One of the ways that Ball’s adaptation differs from Homer’s classic poem is by the concentration on the female characters of the tale. Harris and Ball have teamed up on several projects before including Heiner Müller’s The Task and Michel de Ghelderode’s Pantagleize for Quantum. An Odyssey is being staged at a very picturesque location in Schenley Park—the Schenley Park Ice Skating Rink. It is Quantum’s 11th collaboration with Pittsburgh Citiparks. An Odyssey runs through September 5.
Quantum Theatre’s An Odyssey‘s first scene has the story’s protagonist Odysseus (Sam Turich), who’s just floated to the Island of Scherie on a log, being discovered lurking about by Nausicaa (Erika Strasburg) and her maids, Actea (Shammen McCune), Alcippe (Nancy McNulty), and Adraste (Grace Vensel). This is also where you get the first inkling that this isn’t your father’s (or mother’s) Odyssey. Nausicca, a young princess, would sometimes drop into the modern day vernacular of a teenager. It became more apparent when Odysseus was discovered and the maidens used terms like “stranger danger.”
Another of the first uses of humor in Ball’s adaptation was when Odysseus is subdued behind the curtain by the maidens. You can see shadows behind the hung white sheet acting out the scene and calling out each blow. They get to groin strike, and then another groin strike until the shadows and sound effects make the repeated groin strikes seem like a boxer working out on a speed bag.
Odysseus was pretty much subdued after the repeated groin strikes so now they had to clean him up. Still behind the curtain and shadow acting, you could hear water running, like a shower, then the sound of teeth brushing, an electric hair clipper, and even a blow dryer. The sound and lighting effects throughout the play were splendid and gave added effect.
For Odysseus to return home to Ithaca, Greece, and his wife Penelope (whom he hasn’t seen for 20 years, 10 years of fighting and 10 years of wandering), Nausicca realizes that he must tell a very convincing story to her father, King Alcinous. She asks Odysseus to recount his tale. He says he can’t because he has no men to lead. The maidens enlist in the telling of the tale as Gryllus (McCune), Kratos (McNulty), and Polites (Vensel). They used, what looked to be, a large wheeled luggage cart to sail the seas (the surface of the skating rink) as Odysseus recounted his story. The sound of the sea could be heard…