Baylor’s ‘Odyssey’ performance is modern, suggestive adaptation of classic story

By Lela Atwood

Baylor University Theatre combines a classic tale with modern creativity in its production of The Odyssey. In a nutshell, Odysseus, played by Jeff Wittekiend from Burnet, must go through a series of life-threatening adventures in order to reach his hometown and become reunited with his beloved wife and son.

The play, directed by Dr. David Jortner, an assistant professor of theater arts, opened up with a timeline style lecture explaining the many questions concerning the identity of Homer.

On the stage is a single lecture-style desk where a bored looking student starts reading the beginning of the “Odyssey.”

Suddenly, a gracefully twirling muse in a clunky diaper-like bikini steals the student away and plants her in the middle of the story where the student effortlessly adapts the persona of Athena [Meg Sullivan of Lewisville]. Although this introduction was creatively done, the completeness of the storyline would have been enhanced if the play ended in the same classroom setting it began in.

The characters moved gracefully across the stage, forming impressive moves that were so smoothly executed that they were almost dance-like. A scene that comes to mind involves a very tense dance between the recently released Odysseus and his captor and lover, the sneaky and seductive Calypso [Rachael Herren from Wichita Falls].

Although the story stayed true to the classic plot, even taking place in its original old Greek setting, innovative trends of today were inserted into the story. In the scene involving the lotus flowers which distract the Odysseus’ crew, inhabitants of the island share iPod headphones with crew members as they sway to the music together.

Modern art also made an appearance in scenes. The “ships” in all the scenes were a series of chairs in a row, similar to childhood make-believe games.

The method of emphasizing the brute strength and sheer size of Cyclops was also done in an exceptionally creative way.

A large red eye was suspended on poles over Richard Ross of Carrolton, the actor who did Cyclops’s voice, while Cylcops’ arms were suspended on poles by two actors standing on either side of him.

Although the actors who operated the costume, were not concealed, seeing the actors didn’t steal attention away from the story.

As far as costumes went, most of the characters wore what looked like brown, old-style clothes symbolizing ancient Greek fashion. Interestingly enough, some of the gods wore modern cloths from the plaid flannel of Poseidon to the bikini of Calypso.

Somehow the idea of gods wearing modern clothes worked, since one would assume that gods of any sort were above space and time.

The scene with the sirens seemed to go a little too far in modernity.

Expecting a line of classic mermaid figures and eerie music, it was surprising to see an array of females chanting Victorian concepts about women being the “softer sex” who coo over men who “work soooo hard.” They were modernly dressed in a diversity of costumes, from the sexy schoolmarm look, to the mini-skirt pigtailed Girl Scout and the bride in full white garb.

Although their purpose was to attract men, I feel like the sirens’ costumes coupled with the dances went a little too far on the suggestive scale.

Despite these minor criticisms, this play, adapted by Mary Zimmerman, was brilliantly executed, although I wouldn’t recommend it for children due to the sirens’ costumes and steamy situations that Odysseus finds himself in.