Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – When Homer was writing “The Odyssey,” he probably wasn’t picturing an ice rink.
Thanks to the inventive Quantum Theatre, the Schenley Park ice rink will be transformed into an ancient Greek isle where quick-thinking protagonist Odysseus has washed ashore in “An Odyssey.” Directed by Jed Allen Harris, the world-premiere adaptation opens Friday and runs through Sept. 15. Tickets start at $38 at Quantumtheatre.com.
“An Odyssey,” written by Jay Ball, picks up during the Homeric epic’s middle section in which Odysseus is taken in by Nausicaa, daughter of King Alcinous, who listens to the Greek warrior recount his perilous journey home from Troy.
Sam Turich plays the eponymous role, which is far from the shining hero many readers remember from school, giving Odysseus a modern vibe.
“He’s got this reputation for being wily and clever and a liar,” Turich said. “We see a lot of that in our contemporary life both in the kinds of antihero narratives that have been so popular. Thinking of ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Breaking Bad,’ these long, epic sagas of guys who are lying and cheating and murdering … their way into prominence.”
The core relationship in “An Odyssey” is between Odysseus and Nausicaa, a minor character in Homer’s original. Played by Erika Strasburg, Nausicaa starts “as a brat,” she said, but then life throws her in a new direction. At first she is excited to find the famous hero on the beach, but she discovers Odysseus is not someone to idolize.
Strasburg pointed to a pivotal moment when actor Sam Lothard, a Black man, enters as the cyclops Polyphemus to face Odysseus.
“It’s the first time we realize Odysseus might not be the hero that we’ve always thought of him to be,” Strasburg said. “It’s a huge shift in the show. It’s a really powerful reflection on what’s happened this past year with the Black Lives Matter movement.”
“An Odyssey” has been fine-tuned since its 2019 workshop production and was scheduled for Quantum’s 30th anniversary season. Pandemic protocols forced the cast to rehearse completely outdoors at the ice rink, which would become very wet after each summer rain.
The ice rink is near the Schenley Oval Sportsplex, a playground and the park’s disc golf course. Turich said the cast faced their first group of hecklers during rehearsal of a sword fighting scene.
“It was an excellent early test of our concentration to be able to work our way through a dangerous sword fight while strangers were yelling at us,” he said. “It was good practice.”
The audience will be on platform risers at one end of the rink, and the “stage” will take up the rest of the rink. Many feet of rope are used to set the scene in a minimalist way, and actors will have microphones. Lighting designer Todd Brown and his team installed a full theater rig of lights for when the sun sets behind the trees…