Taproot Theatre’s 35th anniversary season opened epically, with the staging of Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Homer’s epic, “The Odyssey.”
Directed by Scott Nolte, the play successfully takes what could be a six-hour ordeal and re-works it into a two-hour script – it’s easy to follow even for those who haven’t read the poem.
The play is a wonderful combination of the classic and the modern, melding relatable humor with the ancient story of ill-fated Odysseus. In this rendition, the sirens – including Queen Anne actresses Nikki Visel, Jesse Notehelfer and Sarah Roquemore - tempt men with 1950s housewife ideals. Zimmerman gives these sirens humor, not sex.
Taproot’s production is intimate, with only 13 actors playing more than 85 parts, so you get to know them well – but it does require the audience pay attention or they could miss a sailor-to-god transition and be lost momentarily.
Roquemore and Notehelfer frequently transition between sheep, beautiful women and housemaids in a matter of seconds, but seamlessly bring the audience with them. The ensemble cast has chemistry, they work well with each other and seem like they’ve been together for a long time.
One thing that was disappointing was the lack of focus on some very important scenes where Odysseus loses most of his crew. The slaughter of Apollo’s cattle, sailing through Scylla and Charybdis and the Land of the Lotus-eaters make only very brief appearances. It’s understandable, but I would have gladly sat another 10 minutes if those scenes were more developed.
There are only a few props, and the actors work with a blank stage most of the time, but it works. Visel, who plays Greek god Athena for most of the production, also appears as multiple other characters that are Athena in disguise. While such changes could be confusing, the production makes these transitions smoothly.
The dialogue gets slightly muddled in the end when Odysseus returns to Ithaca, and the casual observer may get slightly confused. However, the Taproot actors do a phenomenal job bringing Zimmerman’s adaptation to life. There are plenty of laughs and the acting is solid – even some purposeful overacting. It is “The Odyssey,” after all.
One thing not seen, or heard enough, was actor Nicholas Beach, who plays Hermes among other roles -- he’s given two songs to belt and it’s far too little. His voice is wonderful, and I kept waiting for him to get another song in the second act, but sadly it never came.
The play is well done and is a good refresher for those who last read “The Odyssey” in high school, or a good preview for those who will in the future. The actors perform well, and the blank stage works better than a cluttered one in this huge undertaking.
If Taproot’s "Odyssey" is any indication, then this opener portends a good season for the theater. The production is enjoyable from beginning to end. Notehelfer, Visel and Roquemore may not serenade Odysseus’ crew to the depths, but the cast doesn’t need a siren’s song to draw in audiences.
The production runs through March 5; tickets are $20-35, and $10 for those 25 and under.