Sycamore Rouge’s production of “The Odyssey” overcomes almost as many challenges as Odysseus on his voyage back home after the Trojan War. Homer’s epic poem was written almost 3,000 years ago, but its themes still resonate; these are: fidelity, the inevitability of retribution for wickedness, the importance of honor, the yearning for home and the occasional need for trickery to survive. It took Odysseus 20 years to make his way back; it took Homer over 12,000 lines of poetry and it took the 16 actors at historic Battersea almost three hours to tell the tale. Along the way, we learn much about Greek mythology, history, customs, dress and the rules of hospitality, almost as much as you can learn in a college class and much more entertaining.
I raise my hat to the 16 wonderful actors who played 60 roles. It seemed like a Cecil de Mille production with a cast of thousands, and takes a while to get into who plays whom. If you are not familiar with the original story line it can be a little confusing. A synopsis of the play could have helped; however, as the play progressed it becomes clear.
Zeus and Athena offer a brief introduction, and the play begins with the horde of suitors vying for the hand of Penelope. After so many years everyone – except wife Penelope (played sensitively by Carol Hayes) – assumes Odysseus is dead. His wife and son Telemachus (Zack Moon) have to deal with the unruly and greedy suitors. Meanwhile, Odysseus (Jeffrey Cole) and his crew are struggling to return from the 10-year Trojan War, sailing from island to island. There are some memorable adventures along the way. In one of the most creative scenes, the monster Cyclops (played in a strong performance by Kamau Akinwole) devours the crew one by one. Odysseus tricks, and then blinds the monster’s one eye to escape. Jeffrey Cole, who plays a rather young Odysseus, is excellent here, and in all his other scenes and guises. I particularly liked the way the play picks up pace when he becomes the narrator of his own story.
Other standouts are Reisegun Bennet – Olomidum as Zeus, who proved to be a superb drummer and Shanea Taylor in her many roles. The set (by Nathan Elsener) is simple but evocative of the sea with sail-like wings. Costumes were simple but adequate, as was the lighting by Brittany Dilliberto.
Director KB Saine should be congratulated for taking on an epic challenge and keeping the story, action and choreography flowing. Her choice of cast and division of the parts was excellent. On the evening I attended, the audience included many teenagers who thoroughly enjoyed the performance.
“The Odyssey” plays at historic Battersea Plantation in Petersburg with final productions this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Details are available on the Sycamore Rouge website. Sycamore Rouge offers this gift to the public free of charge. It follows last year’s very successful “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I congratulate Sycamore Rouge for bringing the classics to our area.