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Aquila Theatre delivered a subpar ren­dition of the “Odyssey” Jan. 28. Courtesy | Wiki­media Commons

Homer wrote, “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns,” and the Aquila Theatre Company decided to take it quite lit­erally in its Jan. 28 pro­duction of “The Odyssey” at Hillsdale College. Mud­dling the line between a dra­matic pro­duction, musical theater, and a Spar­knotes summary of “The Odyssey,” Aquila con­fused its audience members. 

Aquila’s adap­tation of Emily Wilson’s trans­lation of “The Odyssey,” directed by Desiree Sanchez, tried to deliver a pow­erful, mod­ernized message of the traumas of warfare and how it affects those sol­diers who come home. 

This focus is taken from Aquila’s work with the vet­erans in The Warrior Chorus program, a noble cause that aims to “train members of the veteran com­munity in leading dis­cussion groups based around ancient Greek works.” But though the effort and message were noble, the pro­duction fell short.

With its six actors playing 18 dif­ferent char­acters, char­acter tran­si­tions were con­fusing. 

And then there was the singing.

Within five minutes of the actors coming on stage, Athena, played by Maggie McMeans, broke into song asking an Olympian god (perhaps Zeus, but the char­acter tran­sition made it dif­ficult to tell if it was him or Hep­haestus) why Odysseus was being tor­tured and kept from home. 

As Athena’s song kept going, it felt that perhaps Aquila was about to turn “The Odyssey” into a musical theater pro­duction. But then the singing abruptly ended and dra­matic, Spar­knote-esque sum­ma­rizing of Odysseus’ journey began. 

The majority of Odysseus’ speech sum­ma­rizing his journey took place in the befud­dling sur­roundings of the Phaea­cians’ island, where the king, queen, and their sub­jects assumed an aggressive demeanor and egre­gious Southern accents. Then sud­denly there was another song bursting forth from Demodocus, played by Reece Richardson. Though the song tried to soul­fully and emo­tionally paint a picture of the hard­ships of war­riors and their return home from war, it fell short and only suc­ceeded in raising the question: is this pro­duction sup­posed to be a musical or a play?

At the end of the song, Odysseus began to sum­marize his tale of woe. Though many of the tales of Odysseus’ journey are pow­erful and would have been the perfect platform to relay the message a soldier’s struggle to come home, Aquila was content with making his adven­tures a blurred summary. Skipping over important events such as Odysseus’ near death expe­ri­ences with Scylla and Charybdis and the sirens, and then his dis­con­tentment with Circe and Calypso, Aquila missed oppor­tu­nities to provide a sobering picture of a veteran’s trauma in coming home. 

After a drive-by sum­mation of Odysseus’ journey, Odysseus sud­denly arrived at home. Once he revealed himself to Eumaeus (Richardson) and his son Telemachus (Cassidy), Penelope, played by Hannah Sin­clair Robinson, sud­denly took the spot­light with very long, somewhat irrel­evant speeches. If the pro­duction had been the full recitation of Homer’s epic, then Penelope’s speeches drawn directly from Homer would have not been out of place. But after shabbily sum­ma­rizing some of the most important moments of the text, Penelope’s musings about her dreams and her repet­itive reflec­tions on her own sorrow felt random and ill-placed. 

 

Once Penelope ended her long-winded con­tem­pla­tions, when it was finally time for the cli­mactic slaugh­tering of the swag­gering suitors who dis­turbed her, Aquila fell dras­ti­cally short of pro­ducing a sat­is­factory climax and ending. With only one suitor to kill and an uncon­vincing fight scene that led up to his death, Aquila seemed to have mis­un­der­stood that Homer’s climax was the slaughter of the suitors. The ending wrapped up so quickly that it felt incom­plete. 

Though Aquila attempted to high­light how war affects war­riors and their home­coming, the most sig­nif­icant takeaway of the pro­duction was con­fusion. Between the musical out­bursts, rough char­acter tran­si­tions, deplorable accents, and oddly selected speeches, the whole energy and emotion of the play felt con­trived and dif­ficult to follow. 

The effect this play had on its audience was to make them lost and con­fused, like Odysseus.