A hungry Cyclops. The meddling gods of Olympus. The stirring singing of sinful sirens. What is a sailor to do?
One of the best known Greek dramas ever written comes to life with a contemporary telling, when the Northeast State Department of Theatre stages “The Odyssey Abridged: A Puppet Journey of Epic Proportions” at the main campus.
Based on “The Odyssey” by Homer, the play tells the story of Greek hero, Odysseus, and his long journey home after the Trojan War. “The Odyssey Abridged” is an original adaptation written and directed by Northeast State’s own Brad McKenzie.
“Our motto of this theater department is ‘go big or go home,’ ” said McKenzie, Northeast State Theatre’s technical director. “This production goes beyond anything we’ve done yet.”
Northeast State Theatre students have won acclaim and awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for three consecutive years. The program’s reputation gives students moving to four-year institutions considerable respect from academic and theatre professionals alike.
The production follows Odysseus as he sails back to his home of Ithaca following the Trojan War. He sets sail through the perilous Greek islands dodging the one-eyed Cyclops, the ravenous Scylla, and the seductive sounds of the Siren women. McKenzie’s Odyssey tells the tale as a comic adventure bridging classic Greek drama with post-modern storytelling.
The journey of Odysseus to reunite with his wife Penelope and son Telemachus takes the audience deep into the protagonist’s mind as he recalls his adventures. The play sticks to the classic human meditations on the individual’s struggle against an unforgiving universe. Northeast State Theatre takes audiences further with larger-than-life special effects and puppet characters.
“This is our most ambitious production to date,” said Elizabeth M. Sloan, director of Northeast State Theater. “I am so impressed with Brad’s vision and the work of our students.”
“The Odyssey Abridged” is the second foray into ancient Greek following the acclaimed “Oedipus Rex” production in 2011. The production retains the universal human issues of finding home, death, fear and time while making an ancient tale accessible to modern audiences.
“One of my eternal teaching missions is to make Greek theater cool for students,” McKenzie said.
Hannah Duncan portrays the Greek goddess Athena, who serves as a narrator and occasional interventionist deity to Odysseus.
“The great thing about Greek theater is how those universal themes resonate in the modern day,” said Duncan, a theater major. “We have the freedom to be creative with the storytelling form. We really work as a family with a lot of great support in the department.”
Northeast State Theatre alumnus Aaron Bradley is the primary sound designer and narrates much of Odysseus’ memories with several long monologues.
“It is going to be a true stage spectacle,” said Bradley. “We spend almost every waking hour now working on the production. I’ve literally fallen asleep reading the script.”
Theater student Todd Burris composed original music for the production. He compiled both music and sound effects to create a consistent theme for the play.
“I’m using music samples drawn from multiple sources, synthesizers and real-world sounds,” Burris said.
Building the puppets fell to KCACTF award-winning theater student Richard Curtis. He designed the puppet characters to be both scary and functional for the actors controlling them.
“We’ve done some incredible things, but this ranks as the largest-scale project I’ve ever done,” Curtis said.
A Northeast State alum and KCACTF award-winning theater professional, McKenzie has served as adjunct faculty member and technical director of the department’s productions for three years. He said he was most proud that the play’s all-student crew was building the set, designing the costumes, and creating the technical effects for the play.
“The exciting thing for me is the production is 100 percent designed by current and former Northeast State theater students,” McKenzie said. “This is really a showcase for my students.”
The “Odyssey” performances are today, Saturday and Nov. 21-23 at 7:30 p.m., with two matinee showings at 2 p.m. Saturday and Nov. 24. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at www.northeaststate.edu. Tickets are free to Northeast State students with valid student identification.
For more information, call Northeast State Theatre at 354.2479 or email emsloan@NortheastState.edu.