The Odyssey: A Rock Musical
This adaptation of Homer's epic is faithful to a fault and rough around the edges
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Sept. 3, 2010
The Odyssey: A Rock Musical
Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd., 891-8387
Through Sept. 4
Running time: 2 hr., 15 min.
It seems that every theatre group in town has explored the "rock musical" in the last five years. Obviously, this is Austin, and you can't cross the street without bumping into another rock band, so some of that is natural. The appeal may also lie
in the impression that a rock musical is a novelty, but many, many shows in Austin have had a live rock band providing the soundtrack. Sometimes it works beautifully; sometimes it doesn't.
Director, writer, and composer Freddy Carnes has taken the well-beaten path of the rock musical with his stage rendition of The Odyssey. The adaptation hits the major points of the Homeric epic faithfully. Odysseus is stuck on an island with Calypso, and it takes some behind-the-scenes work on the part of the Greek gods to get him off and on his way to all the adventures you might remember from your senior year English class. In Carnes' telling, Odysseus' relationship with his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus, is the backbone of the play. He misses them, they miss him, and everybody but the 108 suitors to Penelope (or, in this case, three) wishes he would return.
The production is rough around the edges, to the point of earning itself a bit of that Waiting for Guffman charm. Some community theatre is highly accomplished, but there is also community theatre that is amateurish in a way that doesn't involve pay status. Unfortunately, The Odyssey: A Rock Musical does not rise to the level to which it aspires.
Craig Kanne (Eumaios) and J.R. Zambrano (Eurymachus) stand out among the cast as actors who add actual character to their roles, who discover something interesting in their parts. That's tough to do when the dialogue lacks distinction in voice and tone from one character to the next and when there appears to be a lack of direction. Actors stand about delivering lines and debating without moving, and group scenes feel haphazard and messy.
The music does not help. The composition is simplistic, and the Dougherty Arts Center sound system isn't set up for a rock show, so what we hear is muddled and fuzzy. There are a few performers with great voices, but I only know this because I've seen them in other shows. With inadequate monitors, even the great singers went off-pitch. It was disappointing, too, to see actors pull out a handheld mic when it was time for their solo or tuck it into the belt of their colorful period costumes (designed by Matt Poitras in one of the strongest contributions to the production). Headset mics are a common way to avoid that.
Moreover, The Odyssey: A Rock Musical suffers from lack of vision. The spoken lines are heightened but generic. It's a common knee-jerk reaction by writers to the challenge of adapting a great work of literature or writing in a historical setting; the dialogue becomes bland and artificial rather than unique to the story. Another common problem with adaptations is the writer trying to follow the original too faithfully instead of pursuing a unique idea. It's less important to hit all plot points than it is to explore the story the writer is trying to tell in his or her adapted version. If we want to know the story of The Odyssey blow by blow, then we can devote the time and effort to reading the original, which will always be better.