Black Odyssey Boston Collaborates with Warrior Writers This Weekend
Energy reverberated through the theater. Hushed conversations dwindled as the reading of Marcus Gardley’s modern re-imagining of Homer’s Odyssey came to order.Actors and set engineers gathered around folding tables, focused their laser attention on each others presentations. Using the Cathedral Hills project in Boston for a tableaux, the Central Square Theater’s latest production fuses time, memory and history.
“It’s an old tail’s root dressed in a new jack suit,” director Benny Sato Ambush said as the reading commenced. “At the heart is a love relationship between a Black man and a Black woman and their son, and how he goes to hell and back in order to be with them.”
The set is minimalist. Staged on the floor in the center of the theater between cascading stadium seats, Colosseum like, a water aesthetic runs through the center of the action. Pillars and a parapet frame the players.
“I haven’t felt like this about a show for 20 years,” said Scenic Designer Jon Savage. “It feels like my first production.”
The music is analog, percussion only, featuring call and response spirituals. Music and dance mix in the Africanist conception with ethereal sound effects. The audio is sometimes abstract, sometimes liberal. Chess pieces slice through the speakers, with water gurgles and splashing.
At the reading, the Music Director Allyssa Jones raised up the cast from their chairs and got blood pumping with a rhythmic rendition of Wade in the Water. “Wade in the water, children. Wade in the water. God’s gonna trouble the water.” The performers provided their own rhythm with a stomp, stomp, clap.
In the Africanist conception, music and dance go together. Weaving together afro-Cuban, Afro-fusion traditions, Choreographer Melissa Alexis encouraged improvisation through natural and spontaneous movements that originate in the bodies of the performers.
“Marcus talks about in his notes it’s not this performative, static thing,” Alexis said. “Inner life manifesting, we hold the past, present and future in dance.”
Using costume design to separate the world above and the world below in the play, Nadine Grant described her styles as “Mind-blowingly African and fabulous, wonderfully authentic magnificent depictions of Africaness.”
Using bright and vivid colors with Dashiki prints she taps into what was going on in the 1990s.
The lighting also uses color to convey changes from place to place. At times the lights create a whirlpool, water effect. Adding to the spontaneity of the performance with shadow puppets the lighting choices work to convey the kinetic energy of Gardley’s poetry.
Rich insinuations and musical exchanges, Gardley’s narrative leaps between mortal and heavenly realms. Soliloquies by the gods swashbuckle with allegory, as a chess game between Great Grand Daddy Deus and Great Grand Paw Sidin places Gulf War veteran Ulysses Lincoln’s life in the balance.
As the black knight drowns in Great Grand Paw Sidin’s spit, great gods clash wits over their game that’s lasted 13 human years. Their antics overshadow 33-year-old Ulysses’ struggle to return into the loving arms of his family.
“I turned, tossed in and out of dream,” Ulysses says. “I felt the weight of this history on my neck and I could barely breathe.”
For 20% off tickets enter the promo code COMMUNITY through the Central Square Theater’s website: https://www.centralsquaretheater.org/shows/black-odyssey-boston/
Veterans receive a 50% discount on tickets bought from the box office. Call the box office (617) 576 9278 for info, open Tuesday-Friday 12-6pm.
Central Square Theater invited Warrior Writers for a workshop between the matinee and evening performance for this opening weekend, on Saturday, April 27 at 6pm. Join us!