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by Richard J. Silberg adapted from the epic by Homer directed by Amy Sass

I'll say, wild ride. Directing this show has been both a stretch and a treat for me. From its inception, The Odyssey has been an explosion of collaborative efforts: flexing our fingers learning sign language, rehearsing the blues, push-ups in the park. One heckuva ride and I feel blessed to work with such a warm and zany team of artists.

The Odyssey is an adventure of twists and turns, dives and saves, near misses and temptation. It is a tale of the telling of a tale, of heroism, legends, warring gods and goddesses. And one very strong, very real bond of love.

About the sign language: I had never worked with a deaf actor before Antoinette auditioned for The Odyssey. In the auditions, she knocked my socks off and so I HAD to cast her. I needed, however, to incorporate sign language into the show as well as ensure that hearing audiences would be able to understand her. As a solution, I cast her as Zeus, King of the Gods, and used multiple actors voicing her lines. This also proved to be a powerful stage convention: hearing Zeus' voice "in stereo" seems appropriate for the King of the Gods. A couple of signing rehearsals later, we came up with the idea that signing would be the language of the gods. The consistency of the signing varies: when speaking directly to Zeus, the gods use more detailed signing. When speaking to each other or to mortals, they can afford to be more selective. As we continued exploring this idea, I became more sensitive to deaf audiences. I decided other sections should be signed as well, particularly the songs which outline main plots of the story. The sirens needed to sign because they look so darn cool doing it, and it added to the mystery of that particular scene. My collaboration with Antoinette has added an element to The Odyssey that we never would have thought of without her influence.

For twenty years, pursued by angry, vengeful gods, Odysseus battled extraordinary dangers to return home to Ithaca. But The Odyssey is more than an adventure story. For me, it is about what it means to be human.

In this retelling, I particularly explored the character of Penelope. Her strength and courage struck me as being as heroic as Odysseus' battles. In a sense, Penelope and Odysseus represent the struggles we all fight in our lives: Odysseus against the demons of the outside world, Penelope against the demons closer to home.

In Homer's original poem, the only details we know of Odysseus' journey are through his own account. The tale he weaves has led many to suspect that things may not have happened exactly as he described. Nonetheless, at their core lay some deeper truths. Every storyteller from Homer to today's rap artists know that "story" truth is in some ways more real than facts. Often in storytelling, in myth, we encounter a deeper, more significant meaning than a recounting of facts could convey. As Aleithis puts it, "I am not a fact singer, I am a truth teller." I am hoping my interpretation of this ancient story will be taken in the same spirit.

Last year, the first version of this adaptation was written for and performed by my students at King Middle School in Berkeley. Fifty students participated. I am grateful to those students, as well as to the Shotgun Players, for allowing this display to reach a larger audience. This script is dedicated to Laura, my companion for twenty years, with whom I have grown to understand what could prompt Odysseus and Penelope to hold on to each other despite all the sirens and monsters in the world, and to my daughter Carmen, who helped inspire my understanding of Hermes as a trickster.

Antoinette Abbamonte as Zeus, Westwind, Halitherese, Siren & Sailor
Sandie Armstrong as Athena & Sailor
Ali Dadgar as Poseidon, Suitor, Sailor & Cyclops
Keith Davis as Odysseus
Beth Donohue as Queen Penelope & Sailor
Elica Funatsu as Circe, Muse, Lotus Eater, Siren & Sailor
Brian Linden as Telemachus, Aeolus & Sailor
Toran McGill as Aleithia
Marin Van Young as Calypso, Muse, Dawn, Lotus Eater, Siren, Anticlea & Eurylochus
Dan Wolf as Antinous, Sailor, Suitor & Tiresias
Michael Storm as Hermes, Achilles, Cyclops & Suitor

Amy Sass, director
Carolyn Padilla, stage manager
Michael Frassinelli, set design and construction
Christine Cilley, costume design and construction, house manager
Benjamin Lovejoy, graphic design
Laura Teutschel, publicist
P.J. Sonnichsen & Darin Wilson, musical consultants
Marin Van Young, managing director
Patrick Dooley, artistic director

Opened: Friday, April 3, 1998
Performed: Saturday & Sunday at 1:00 pm
Performed At: Codornices Park, MLK Park, Willard Park, Live Oak Park, John Hinkel Park, Ohlone Park, Lake Merritt Park, Mosswood Park
Closed: August 23, 1998

Michael Scott Moore for SF Weekly
Annie Guy for The San Francisco Bay Guardian
Chad Jones for The Oakland Tribune

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