April Tour of Odysseus

Odysseus will hit the road April 5 though the end of the month, touring through Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Vermont, from Libraries, in private homes, and in small experimental theatres. Having settled into a production seasoned over two years, the piece now seeks intimate audiences to celebrate and immerse ourselves in the beauty and wisdom of this great story. Odysseus plans to return on the road in September/October of this year, 2024, so email Bill (kingfish@fast.net) if you’ve any interest.

From Broad Street Review, Kiran Pandey wrote of the Philadelphia performances: The Odyssey is one of our oldest extant works of literature, but the poem we have today is far from its original form. Before Homer’s epic was committed to the page, it existed within and was transmitted through the oral tradition, the fare of rhapsodes performing town to town. Yet much is still unknown as to when a definitive version of the text emerged and what techniques would have been used to convey the story. In a widely preliterate Greece, how would this tale have been told?
Bill George’s Odysseus, now running at Pig Iron as part of the 2023 Philly Fringe, is an attempt to answer this question. A one-man retelling of the original poem, the play faithfully renders Odysseus’s journey home to Ithaca after the Trojan War in a captivating work of oratory performance. It feels less an act of adaptation than of reversion, unmooring the poem from the pages on which it arrived to us and returning it to the rhetorical mode from whence it came.
That this experiment succeeds to any degree can be ascribed to George’s masterful storytelling, a sturdy vessel that skillfully navigates the ebbs and flows of Odysseus’s tempestuous homecoming. His first and foremost part is that of the narrator, a character in his own right. When he steps into other roles, each attendant with its own deeply textured physicality, he does so with a knowing wink to the audience so that we never forget he is still the narrator, cycling through his many masks. This, of course, must have been how it originally was: less a fully-fledged theatrical production and more the spirited work of an imaginative grandfather tasked to read a bedtime story.
As much as the play is an attempt to understand The Odyssey’s original conduit, it is also an attempt to understand Odysseus himself. “Let us tell of a man,” begins George’s iteration of the poem, “troubled by woes,” and indeed, the first image of our protagonist is that of a man prone on a beach, weeping in the sand. From here on, the play contends with the tension of its protagonist: a classical hero with a surprising emotional reservoir, this man who seems to contain within him all men. He is a soldier, yet he cries; he endures the advances of the nymph Calypso yet must be tied to a mast lest he succumb to siren song; he possesses a seemingly infinite aptitude for invention yet is capable of such mindlessness, such bloodshed. In one scene, he intones to a rapt audience: “My name is Odysseus, but you do not know me!” It is as if he speaks here beyond the story to every reader and performer who has ever tried to grasp the man.

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