ODYSSEY:
THE HOMECOMING

February 12 - 29, 2004
Thursday - Sunday at 7:30pm
The Annex

created and directed by Theodora Skipitares
lighting design Pat Dignan
music Arnold Dreyblatt
additional music Tim Schellenbaum
featuring puppeteers: Michael Kelly, Chris Maresca, Alisa Mello, Bernadette Witzack, Bronwyn Bittetti & Amanda Villalobos.


ODYSSEY: THE HOMECOMING, the newest multimedia theater production conceived, designed and directed by Theodora Skipitares, is the second part of her puppet trilogy on the Trojan War. Skipitares' trilogy takes on the legend of the Trojan War in its entirety, including the prewar and postwar periods. Last season, Skipitares' "Helen, Queen of Sparta" dealt with the battle for Troy. The New York Times (D.J.R. Bruckner) called it "as rich a 70-minute heartwarmer as one could want." This year's "Odyssey: The Homecoming" will tell the war's aftermath. Next year, Skipitares will do a piece about the prelude to war, based on Euripides' "Iphigenia in Aulis."

The multimedia production transforms the 24 chapters of the Odyssey into several individual shadow "screens" and other projection surfaces, taking the audience through a physical journey of space and time. Odysseus is treated as a returning combat veteran, traumatized and unable to "find his way home." Using the writings of Boston psychiatrist Jonathan Shay ("Achilles in Vietnam," "Odysseus in America"), who has worked with Vietnam veterans for 30 years, the play will constantly bring us to our own "post-war" situation and to an examination of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The production features 50 shadow puppets, several "video puppets," projections of documentary war footage, and other styles of puppetry and masks. The character of Odysseus is a five-foot Bunraku style puppet. The score is a strongly percussive soundscape by Arnold Dreyblatt (with Tim Schellenbaum). Some of the most amusing and delightful scenes, such as the encounters with Cyclops and Circe (she turns men into pigs), are rendered in delicately colored shadow puppets which appear to have come to life from Greek vase paintings. The character of Penelope, performed by Obie-award winner Leeny Sack as narrator, performs a prologue in front of a Rajasthani scroll painting to introduce the play.

The production was workshopped this month in Delhi, at India Habitat Centre, as part of Ishara International Theatre Festival. There, Skipitares commissioned two Rajasthani scroll painters to create a 4' x 10' painting of the Odyssey. Their creation will be backdrop for the play's prologue, in which a light source will move along the painting, illuminating portions of the epic.

The play itself will be extremely spectacular, with an emphasis on gesture and music rather than dialogue. It opens with a video projection in which Athena entreats her father, Zeus, to help her bring her beloved Odysseus home. The hero has been away at war for 20 years. It is possible to infer from the video that Athena is a wife or mother of a GI in Iraq, and that she is pleading with President Bush to bring home her son. A masked dance scene recounts a major childhood incident in Odysseus' life where his thigh was gashed open by a wild boar (it's how he got his name, which means born of pain).




Then the scene shifts to the voyage home, after the Trojan War. Having lost 600 men and having been adrift at sea for ten years, Odysseus is washed upon the shore of Phaecia, a friendly island. There, the people offer solace and bring him to a banquet. Seeing him weeping, they ask him to tell his story. He wants to tell them about how traumatized and damaged he is, but he understands they would prefer to be entertained with wondrous stories that avoid the horrors of war. So he begins an entertainment sequence, rendered in shadow puppetry. Afterward, he is given a boat and sent home to Ithaca, where he will take his palace back and reconcile with his wife, Penelope.

While Skipitares' La MaMa plays since the mid-'90s have mostly required theatergoers to drift around the Annex Theater, this one, like "Helen, Queen of Sparta" before it, keeps its audience in its seats.

Music is by Arnold Dreyblatt, the Berlin-based American composer who also scored "Helen, Queen of Sparta." The score is very powerful rhythmically and has been recorded by musicians from Bang on a Can. Tim Schellenbaum, a veteran sound designer of La MaMa, has provided additional music, as in the earlier installment. The cast includes puppeteers Michael Kelly, Chris Maresca, Alisa Mello, Bernadette Witzack, Bronwyn Bittetti and Amanda Villalobos. Lighting is by Pat Dignan.

Theodora Skipitares became regarded as the most provocative miniaturist working in New York following such formative works in the 1980's and '90s as “Micropolis,” “Defenders of the Code” and “The Radiant City.” She made her La MaMa debut with "Underground" (1992), a work which explored a wide variety of subterranean cultures, from mineshafts to fallout shelters. David Richards (New York Times) wrote, "She wants you to look hard and close into dark nooks and spooky crannies. You'll discover all sorts of mini-revelations and Lilliputian enchantments if you do." She went on to mythologize the history of medicine with "Under the Knife I, II and III," all at La MaMa, between 1994 and 1996. This work was her first use of La MaMa's large Annex Theater as an enveloping, multi-level installation as, in a series of 24 miniature environments, she fabricated a spectacular interactive marketplace of medical ideas through the ages.

Trained as a sculptor and designer, Skipitares avoids the label puppeteer as too limiting in view of her multi-media approach. Alisa Solomon (Village Voice), reviewing her "The Age of Invention" (1985), claimed Skipitares fulfilled Gordon Craig's call for Uebermarionette to replace actors because only puppets could convey the "noble artificiality" he considered necessary for the stage. That work had life-size puppets of Ben Franklin, Edison, and Michael O'Connor--a 20th century salesman who passed as a surgeon and performed operations in five states.

When "Micropolis" (1982), her first major work, was revived in 1992, the Village Voice (Pam Renner) call it "the work of a possessed and clairvoyant miniaturist." The work contained miniature scenes from urban life: some real, like an unnoticed murder, some fanciful, like a dinosaur waking up on a superhighway. Her "Defenders of the Code" (1987) was picked in the New York Times' "ten best plays" list. It dramatized Plato's "Republic," Darwin's "Origins of the Species," and James Watson's "Double Helix" with Bunraku-style puppets. "The Radiant City" (1991) presented the legacy of master-builder Robert Moses. Her "The Harlot's Progress" (1998) was a chamber opera, with music and lyrics by Barry Greenhut, based on the engravings of William Hogarth. The New York Times (Lawrence Van Gelder) wrote, "Like its inspiration, 'A Harlot's Progress' is striking, timely and admirable art." Her "Body of Crime" (La MaMa, 1996) and "Body of Crime II" (La MaMa, 1999) enacted scenes of women in prison from medieval times to the present. Her "Optic Fever" (2001) was a play on Renaissance artist-scientists, devoted to the history and philosophy of how we see. It played to packed houses in its initial run at La MaMa and had a return engagement that year.

Skipitares has been repeatedly nominated for the American Theater Wing's special design award and won the 1999 prize for "A Harlot's Progress." She has received Guggenheim, Rockefeller and NEA grants. In 2000, she was a Fullfright Fellow in India and has returned to India frequently to create new works.

Composer Arnold Dreyblatt was born in NYC and has been based in Europe since 1984. He is presently living in Berlin. He studied Film and Video Art at SUNY Buffalo (M.A. from the Institute for Media Studies) with Woody and Steina Vasulka and later Music Composition with Pauline Oliveros (1974), La Monte Young (1974-76), and Alvin Lucier at Wesleyan University. From 1979-97, he was director and composer for his music ensemble, "The Orchestra of Excited Strings." In 1991, Dreyblatt composed "Who's Who in Central & East Europe 1933," a co-production between Inventionen '91/DAAD, Berlin and Wiener Fest Wochen, Vienna. He has received commissions from "Ars Electronica", Linz (1988), Oeyvaer Desk, Den Haag (1989), Prime Foundation, Groningen (1989), DAAD- Inventionen '91, Berlin (1990), Werkstaat Berlin, 1991, Podewil/US Arts Festival, Berlin (1993), Bang in A Can, New York (1996) and Saarland Radio (2001). His recordings have appeared on numerous labels. Recently, Dreyblatt has been increasingly involved in integrating archival and biographical texts with his sound work in performance and installation.

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