Theater Review

Taproot’s The Odyssey an Unlikely Love Story

Is it considered cheating if a goddess bewitches you?

By Laura Dannen February 14, 2011

Not to ruin the ending or anything, but Odysseus (Mark Chamberlin) makes it home to wife Penelope (Pam Nolte). Photo: courtesy Erik Stuhaug.

Odysseus wasn’t a perfect man. He made the difficult decision to leave behind his wife and infant son to battle Trojans—and probably enjoyed the glory of sneaking behind enemy lines in a wooden horse a little too much. Then there was the year he spent in bed with the goddess Circe after the war…and the seven years he was chained to seductress Calypso. Not to mention the seed he probably sowed while in captivity. But still! When a man endures 20 years of hardship, cyclops and sirens to get to his wife, that’s romance. And Taproot Theatre’s production of The Odyssey —a shortened version of Mary Zimmerman’s famously witty adaptation—relies on the strength of its Odysseus (veteran Seattle thespian Mark Chamberlin) to carry the play home.

Working with a sparse set, few props, and 13 actors in some 80+ roles, Taproot turns Homer’s epic adventure into a character drama with a love story at its core. Yes, the same disasters still befall Odysseus, but the Cyclops—Stephen Grenley gamely stomping around with a giant eyeball covering his head—seems inconsequential. The sirens? Just flighty women in strange pillbox hats issuing a modern, placating call: “You’re perfect the way you are.” They’re all just stepping stones toward Ithaca and Odysseus’s wife Penelope (Pam Nolte) and now-grown-son Telemachus (Randy Scholz). As the hero, the stately Chamberlin carries his head high, but also appears vulnerable. To borrow from Ms. Zimmerman, the range he shows as Odysseus runs from seeming “like a god” to “like a drowned cat.” His focus, and the audience’s focus, is singular.

Its in the final scene when Taproot hits its stride, as Odysseus schemes to rid his house of suitors. Cast members stop swapping parts—gone are the eye patches—and the story rapidly reaches its dramatic, bloody conclusion, the stage bathed in a siren-red light. In the end, the odyssey itself is forgotten, and what lingers is a kiss between husband and wife.

The Odyssey is at Taproot Theatre through March 5.

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