Written by award-winning playwright and director Mary Zimmerman, the University of Oklahoma’s production of “The Odyssey” brings Homer’s epic to the stage through a modern conduit: a young woman struggling with Robert Fitzgerald’s 1961 translation.
“Zimmerman’s adaptation has taken the language of the cumbersome Fitzgerald translation and truly breathed a spark of life into it,” said director Matthew Ellis, an OU assistant professor.
“Zimmerman keeps almost the entire story, but has found a way to tell it with a quick pace and a bit of contemporary wit.”
Despite compressing almost all of Odysseus’ tales into one play, Ellis said that the essential elements are preserved.
“The characters do not get short shrift,” he said.
Given Zimmerman’s goals of making “The Odyssey” resonate with modern audiences, Ellis is an inspired choice to direct the piece. He has been fascinated since childhood with Greek mythology and its modern counterpart, comic books.
“Here in this ancient text, written thousands of years ago, the themes were the same that modern authors were using,” Ellis said. “It had all the heroism of ‘Batman’ with powerful villains and astonishing feats of righteousness. The characters were exciting and larger than life, but not without flaws.”
While working off such a unique and specific script, Ellis has still found ways to interject his own ideas into the production, especially with the fight choreography.
“Zimmerman stylized the action. I chose to let the slaughter at the end be more action packed, while keeping a sense of theatricality to it,” he said.
Ellis described the visual of the production as immersive, transporting the audience as soon as they enter the space, before the play even begins.
“Jon Young’s set design and Kirk Fitzgerald’s lighting design have brought a level of sophistication to the story without compromising the simple storytelling aspect that we all agreed was important,” he said. “The set is open, but has a rotating turntable in the center allowing us essentially make the set live and move with the actors.”
Lloyd Cracknell designed costumes that were detailed, but versatile enough to hold up to some physically demanding performances. “Actors are falling off boats, hanging in the air, grabbing each other running, turning into pigs … the list goes on,” Ellis said. “Lloyd’s extensive background with designing for both theater and modern dance made him the perfect choice for this show.”