Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Odysseus in the Cafeteria

Photo from t-shirtexpressions.com, where you can buy your very own Ithaca is Gorges shirt!

My musings on The Odyssey below reminded me of my musings the last time I read it, 3 years ago. I was a freshman here at Vassar and full of wild dreams for the years to come. As I sat in the cafeteria reading The Odyssey, I saw a guy walk by wearing an "Ithaca is Gorges" T-shirt. I thought that if someone ever did an irreverent modern-day retelling of The Odyssey, it would be hilarious for Odysseus (and the rest of the Ithacans?) to wear that as a costume.

Then it struck me that the cafeteria was a veritable Aegean sea of tables... I could stage a site-specific Odyssey right there, with the support of my wonderful new university!

This never came to pass--I got involved with writing other scripts, didn't really feel like writing a funny-but-not-stupid adaptation of The Odyssey--but I recently dug up the notes I had written about this idea. Here they are, in all their overenthusiastic freshman glory:
Each table represents a different island that Odysseus visits. The audience sits at the tables and is called upon to play the denizens of the various islands, in a kind of audience-participation Greek chorus. (The major characters would be actors— everyone else would just play along.) Every time Odysseus gets driven off course, it is represented by an actor in “wind” or “sea” or “Poseidon” costume running over and pushing him to a different island. The trick would be to make the show not merely funny (the Ithaca shirt, the rather low production values) and bring back some of the magic of Greek theater. I SO want to do this! I feel SO inspired! The Odyssey is haunting me as it has haunted people for thousands of years! Yahoo!
Some of my other ideas included:
  • Calypso music for Calypso
  • The lotus-eaters represented as a bunch of contemporary stoners
  • Physical representations of "rosy-fingered Dawn" and "wine-dark sea"
  • Nausicaa as a source of comedy: a beautiful girl who loves to do laundry. She could sing “I love to go a-laundering…”
  • A bunch of tables at one end of the cafeteria pushed together to represent Ithaca, the most important island. Other islands could be large or small, as the story demands.
  • The "Wandering Rocks" represented by stagehands pushing tables around. Whirlpool Charybdis as a swirl of cloth.
  • Minimal props: e.g. Odysseus should just mime the climactic shooting of the arrow through the axe-handles
  • Lots of breaking of the fourth wall: a narrator who helps move the story along. But I've always hated narrators who are called simply "Narrator..." "Homer" is too obvious. A god--Athena?--as narrator? Leopold Bloom? Ulysses Everett McGill?
  • References to other adapters of The Odyssey--James Joyce, the Coen Brothers (see item above). By the way, I remember going back to my room that night and telling my roommate about my ideas and both of us apologizing for never having read James Joyce's Ulysses. That's the kind of girls we were--seventeen, eighteen years old and feeling inadequate because we hadn't read Ulysses yet. I still haven't. But it was the inaugural entry on my "To Be Read" list--which now stretches three pages long.

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