Acting Takes Center Stage in Taproot Theatre’s “The Odyssey”

Randy Scholz as Telemachus and Mark Chamberlin as Odysseus in "The Odyssey."

It takes a strong actor to fill the sandals of Odysseus, the namesake hero of Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey,” and in the opening performance the stage adaptation at Taproot Theatre, Mark Chamberlin proved the perfect fit.

Straight off a run as Scrooge in ACT’s “A Christmas Carol,” Chamberlin shifted from grumpy miser to wise and worldly hero. With his thundering voice and ability to fill the entire stage with his presence, Chamberlin explored a range of emotions with convincing expertise.

The two-and-a-half-hour production started off slowly; to be fair, so does the poem. With minimalist set and costumes, the quality of acting carried the show

Opening with a council of the gods in which Zeus (Nolan Palmer) and his daughter Athena (Nikki Visel) discuss Odysseus’ fate, the play is set ten years after the Trojan War, and Odysseus still has not returned home. His wife Penelope (Pam Nolte) lives in their home with her son Telemachus (Randy Scholz), where the two are harassed daily by local suitors who want to marry the former. Spurred on by Athena disguised as a traveler, Telemachus sets out for the Greek mainland to search for news of his father.

The show picks up speed when the audience first encounters Odysseus, still trapped in the caves of a sly and giddy Calypso (April Wolfe). As he resumes the journey home, after being held captive over seven years, Poseidon interferes, wrecking his raft and sending him adrift at sea. Washed ashore on the island of Phaecia, Odysseus awakens to the sound of young women singing as they clean their laundry. One of the young women, Nausicaa, kindly takes him home to her father, the ruler of the island.

At the king's palace Odysseus is encouraged to recount the incredible tale of his homeward travels, including the famous Cyclops trickery, the seduction of the cunning Circe, and a journey to the underworld where he visits his deceased mother’s spirit.

The scene in which Odysseus and his crew sail through the region of the sirens is a truly funny jab at male chauvinism in which the women chant phrases such as “I love it when you ignore me” and “No, don’t get it, I’ll take care of that.”

The second act is jam-packed with adventure, culminating with Odysseus and Telemachus (with the aide of Athena) battling the suitors, and the tender reunion between Penelope and her husband. 

Taproot Theatre Company blends the right amount of humor and enthusiasm to engage the audience throughout the play. Once the suspension of disbelief is achieved, one finds full investment in the story, which explores age-old themes of honor, home and childhood.

Chamberlin, Nolte and Visel present solid, skilled performances, and even through several botched lines the dialogue is accessible--no simple feat for this story.

The streamlined dialog combined with an easy-to-follow plot and clear delineation of characters make this adaptation of “The Odyssey” a fantastic introduction to the story for those who have never read the original text.

Photo Credit: Erik Stuhaug