Claudio Parrone, Jr. plays Odysseus, and it is a heroic role in all respects, not just in the length of the role, being on stage for most of the two hours' performance, but in the number and subtlety of the emotions required. The play begins with a framing device, with the troupe of actors discussing why they should stage this now ancient story, Parrone's character, not convinced, nevertheless throws himself into the role of Odysseus.
The action proper begins with Odysseus washed up on a beach and succored by the Princess Nausicaa (Alejandra Gonzalez), who is fascinated by the brooding and manly castaway. He tells his story in flashback to her and her father, King Alcinous (Tairre Christopherson), relating his misadventures with a piratical raid on Ismaros in the land of the Cicones, with the Lotus-eaters, and with the Cyclops. He describes the wrecking of his fleet when Aeolus' bag of wind is opened, and the encounter with Circe, and his other adventures and catastrophes until being released from the island of Calypso, whence he has most recently come. Alcinous decides to assist Odysseus get home, and provides him with a ship, a crew, and many gifts.
The latter part of the play deals with Odysseus' homecoming, his revealing himself to his son and loyal followers, and the plan to rid Ithaca of the vicious band of suitors for Penelope's hand.
It would seem difficult to present such an epic story in Off the Wall's small space (not for nothing do we refer to it as the "Hole in the Wall Theatre," but the creativity of the actors and producers rose to the challenge. Clever low-tech effects enhanced the action, such as enshrouding the battle with the Cicones in swathes of red netting, which implied a red mist of blood over the field. There were a couple of curious choices, such as making Polyphemus the Cyclops a Japanese ogre (played with great glee by Derek Lobacz). Most of the cast members played numerous roles, a necessity used to advantage in having Jacqueline Roush play Penelope, Circe, and Calypso, which underscores Odysseus' lament, when breaking free of Calypso's power, that "I see all women as Penelope."
The human element of the stories is continually turned uppermost. Odysseus struggles under the weight of many burdens. The deaths of his men, many due to his own arrogance or bad judgement; the long separation from home and family; and not least, the burden of his own reputation. Odysseus the Hero, the twisted man, the liar, haunts Odysseus the man, threatening to overshadow him, and causing even Odysseus to doubt which parts of his story are true.
Once Odysseus has vanquished the suitors, he must confront Penelope, who is upset and shattered by the realization that the man who has come home is not the young husband whose memory she has cherished and clung to for twenty long and lonely years. The play ends uneasily as they realize they must learn to know and love one another again--or not.
Dale Gutzman and John Angelos, in their adaptation, have put together a script that abridges the epic story into a manageable play, but does it with powerful dialog and evocative action. The cast traded roles with alacrity and made excellent use of costume and prop pieces that were mainly referential rather than substantial. There was very fine acting by all concerned, in particular Mr. Parrone, Ms. Roush, and Marann Curtis in the pivotal role of Athene, Odysseus' patron goddess.
Off the Wall continues to take chances and challenge the audience, which, in this case, resulted in a very enjoyable evening at the theater.
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