It’s fun to sit in on rehearsals. I like watching directors think (yes, that is exactly what I mean), and I like seeing how the directors’ and the performers’ notions of character, action, and theme crystallize into a final performance. I relish watching the written word flower into gesture, nuance, inflection, gait.
It doesn’t always work, of course. But when it all comes together, it’s magic.
At the point that I watched Wanderings of Odysseus a couple weeks ago, it was too early to tell how or if the production was going to gel.
It did. So now I can say it: Rush Rehm‘s production is a brilliant, inventive, and frequently witty retelling of Homer’s retelling of the Odysseus’ long voyage home.
No easy task: the cast is unevenly mixed between students and pros, which could be problematic especially in an ensemble production where characters blend into each other (all the men get a crack at playing Odysseus, for example). I expected L. Peter Callender to deliver, and he didn’t disappoint. But it was exciting to watch how the other characters snapped into focus in the couple weeks since my back was turned. For example, I remember Ariel Mazel-Gee vaguely in the chorus of last year’s Electra: this year she has matured into a courageous and pensive Nausicaa. Madhulika Krishnan, a 16-year-old from Notre Dame High School, holds her own in the ensemble, and is downright splendid when she dances at Alcinous’s feast — a sort of Kathak-style variant from southern India. Stanford Summer Theater veteran Courtney Walsh is at her absolute best — I haven’t seen her sparkle this way before. In fact, I can’t recall her performing in anything that so much brings out her evident gift for playfulness — she likes using her lithe 5’10” to spring and pounce and swoop and lollygag. We saw Bronwyn Reed in last season’s Rent as a lively, belt-’em-out Mimi — but her vixenish, lighter touch shines as Circe and Aphrodite.
Nice dramatic arc, too, as the action breaks for intermission during the feast at Alcinous’s palace, then builds in the second half, with the eerie sirens singing behind a scrim, culminating in a bitter and devastating trip to Hades.
Perhaps best of all is the clever use of a bare stage, a few ropes, and a strange furry little poncho (or is it a throw?) that is used as a blanket, a sail, and as gift-wrap. Rehm’s adaptation sparkles, too — Rush adapted Oliver Taplin’s translation into a four-hour piece that was performed for a month in Malibu’s Getty Museum nearly two decades ago. Let’s hope it doesn’t fall into another long slumber.
Rush never loses sight of the protagonist of his story, and it’s not Odysseus. It’s the sea. The constant theme of the play is water — whether the performers are rowing in unison, or imitating the movements of the restless waves, or whooshing the sound of water with their breath — or simply percussionist Taylor Alan Brady splashing his hand in a kettle of water.
Postscript: Even three millennia ago, a 20-year trip from Troy to Ithaca must have been a strange and inexplicable thing — like those occasional news stories one reads, where a World War II marriage proposal was waylaid by the mail, is delivered to an old woman, and results in a late-life wedding.