This month NCSU's University Theatre presents a reinterpretation of Homer's The Odyssey. The new script moves the setting from ancient Greece to modern America, where the protagonist, Anon (Chris Duran), is washed ashore after a shipwreck. In a series of twenty-five scenes, Anon meets various nefarious people and finally finds his way back home, where he finds and saves his mother from the clutches of a sweatshop boss. Adapter Naomi Iizuka has named this reinterpretation Anon(ymous).
The show takes place on a quite versatile set, designed by Stephen Fausto, which provides a variety of levels and spaces depicting the changing American scenery. Unfortunately, the scenes bleed so often and so quickly into one another that the changing landscape becomes a blur, and only those who make use of the scene list in the program may know where Anon is at any given moment.
The work is enhanced by a lovely soundtrack, provided by Eric Collins, which gives the piece a haunting quality. Costumes, designed by John McIlwee, place the time somewhere in the middle of the 20th century. Anon is guided through his journey by a goddess, Naja (Vanessa Springs), who monitors his whereabouts and guides him by asking him questions.
Unfortunately, this production is hampered by two very distinct problems: The first is the script, which seems to bear very little resemblance to Homer's original. The protagonist is not Odysseus, but a nameless (and much is made of this fact) immigrant who seeks only to return home. And while the trials that Anon meets are indeed dangerous, they cannot approach the many almost insurmountable trials that Odysseus faced. Further, the characters that Anon meets are so fleeting that there is very little chance for character development; these images fly past us and are lost quickly, leaving us dissatisfied.
Which leads us to the second difficulty of the evening. With two exceptions, this cast seemed woefully unprepared for opening night, the players wooden and almost fearful in their presentation. There was little characterization, and what was there seemed forced. We in the audience were very much aware of the fact that we were watching a presentation; the cast projected a visible "I-am-in-a-play-and-these-are-my-lines" quality, which made the whole production seem amateurish.
The first exception to this was Fara Marin's interpretation of a bird, a pet that haunts Anon during the first scene of Act II. This was a fine interpretation of a non-human creature which gave us a striking resemblance to the real thing. Second, and more important, was the smooth and natural characterization by Vanessa Springs of Naja, the goddess. Of all these characters, only she seemed comfortable in her own skin. Her presentation was controlled, graceful and convincing, which made her a standout in this cast.
Director Mia Self has some work to do if this show is to be at all successful. Until all the cast is as comfortable with this script as Springs is, until they can work inside their characters and not give the impression that they are reading from a script, then this show is not going to engage an audience. At the present time this cast is not ready for an audience. Those patrons around me seemed glad, when the time came, that the show was over. But that was nothing compared to the sense of relief we felt from the cast that they made it through opening night.
University Theatre is to be commended for taking on a script that is new and unknown. However, there is more work to be done to bring these characters to life. Unless this cast improves drastically over the course of the run, this production is a dud. Director Self and University Theatre seem to have taken on a quest worthy of Odysseus himself; the question is whether they will rise to meet the challenge.
Anon(ymous) continues through Sunday, November 22. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.