Review: Greek mythology comes to life with “The Odyssey”
When the words “ancient Greek mythology” are mentioned, what does your mind jump to? Is it the powerful rule of the Greek gods or the tales of the humans that worship them? Do you remember grand stories of heroism about slaying horrendous monsters? In “The Odyssey,” the Palo Alto High School Theater Department aims to bring the world of ancient Greece back to life and showcases the long journey of Odysseus on his return home from the Trojan War.
Most of the play, written by playwright Mary Zimmerman, chronicles the enormous amount of obstacles Odysseus (senior Ophir Sneh) faces during his journey, including an angry cyclops, enchanting sirens, vindictive gods and rowdy lords. However, the difficulties endure after his return, as Odysseus must fight to restore the life he had before the war. Along the way, the goddess Athena (senior Sophie Swezey), Odysseus’ son, Telemachus (junior Jackson Kienitz) and other characters help Odysseus. His grieving wife Penelope (senior Molly Kraus) fights off suitors who wish to marry her since her husband Odysseus is presumed dead. Though it is usually clear what is going on, the short modern-day element at the beginning of the play is slightly confusing and seems irrelevant to the rest of the plot.
The cast members do a great job of capturing the essence of their characters. The dialogue is understandable, and the story is portrayed nicely whether it is a lighthearted, fun moment or a serious scene. Odysseus, with his sincerity and determination, is convincing in his image of a hero, and is nicely balanced by the loud and foolish actions of rowdy nobles (senior Matthew O’Reilly, junior Jason Pollak and senior Daniel Cottrell). A silent muse shows the audience, through body movements, the transferring of ideas from gods to mortals in a fluid, creative manner.
The show features one main set with a backdrop of waves, clouds and rocks. Throughout the play, the location and time period is projected onto the stage to help clarify the plot. Greek columns are cleverly lifted on and off stage depending on the scene, and a platform in the back showcases the presence of the Olympic gods. The huge puppet used to create the character of the cyclops is a particularly impressive prop, and adds a dramatic feel to an action-packed scene. The presence of a boat is smartly substituted by artfully arranged chairs, convincing pole movements to represent rowing and characters that sway to the drift of the faux ocean.
The characters’ costumes showcased great attention to detail, with a modern twist on some of the garments and accessories such as necklaces and headpieces. Although the torn tunics, leggings and pants of some of the characters were simple, they seemed authentic to their station. The goddesses had interesting, flowing dress variations and the make-up on the nymph Calypso (junior Nadia Leinhos) is particularly beautiful. In instances when characters were “disguised,” clever costume switches that do not disguise the actual identity of the character are utilized.
One of the standout features of the production is the musical element. Recorded music, composed by alumnus Jonathan Shue, as well as live music provided by student musicians junior Edward Park and junior Laura Sieh, accompanies the actors during almost every scene with an assortment of instruments such as bajo sexto, drums and wind chimes. The calm and melodic music makes watching it much more entertaining and helps to fully immerse the audience into ancient Greece. Interesting and artistic use of scarves and chairs as props during dance sequences made scene changes flow smoothly and helped set the tone for the next scene.
An epic saga that includes elements of adventure, romance and tragedy, “The Odyssey” is a production that does justice to Homer’s classic poem. It will please the eyes and ears of theater-goers of almost any age, though small children might get restless with the two hours and 30 minutes running length. Although the first act seems to move a little slowly, the second act picks up momentum and carries it to the end, providing for a satisfying conclusion.
“The Odyssey” has four more showings on Nov. 7, Nov. 8, Nov. 12 and Nov. 13. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Haymarket Theater, except for the Sunday show on Nov. 8, which begins at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7 for students and seniors and $10 for adults.