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Ashland Theater Review: The Odyssey


Dorothy Velasco reviews the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of The Odyssey, adapted for the stage by Mary Zimmerman.

This is KLCC. I’m Dorothy Velasco with the Ashland Theater Review.

“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending.” So begins Homer’s “Odyssey.”

Now the muse sings in Mary Zimmerman, whose stage adaptation of the ancient Greek poem is playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Zimmerman’s mesmerizing creation freshly envisions the epic adventures of Odysseus as he struggles to return home after the Trojan War.

I would see ANYTHING by Zimmerman. She could turn recycling instructions into a masterpiece.

Her staging is always surprising. Cyclops is seen as a giant shadow behind a scrim. With each heavy step he takes, Odysseus and his fearful men jump clear off the ground.

Calypso, who holds Odysseus prisoner as her sex toy, clings to him like a starfish and tightens her limbs around him as he builds a boat to escape.

The sirens, six women dressed in red, including a bride, a nurse and a nun, entice our hero not with sex appeal but with compliance, saying things like “Don’t get up; I’ll be glad to do it.” The message is powerful and the delivery is hilarious.

Christopher Donahue has played Odysseus for Zimmerman previously and he commands the role. This hero is brilliant, complex and steadfast.

Luckily, his protector is the goddess Athena, played with super-human strength, intelligence and grace by Cristiana Clark. She could be the original Wonder Woman.

Although it takes him 20 years to reach home, Odysseus never gives up, and his wife Penelope never loses faith in him. His son Telemachus becomes a man by making his own journey in search of his father.

Odysseus and his family are as good as flawed humans can be, whether thousands of years ago, or today. 

Dorothy Velasco has reviewed productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for KLCC since 1985.