Derek Walcott's theatrical interpretation of Homer's epic poem The Odyssey was clearly never meant to be easy going for anyone. Some say even Homer's feathers might have been ruffled at the dramatic liberties taken by the St Lucian poet/playwright with the classic tale of travels and travails written near the end of the eighth century BC.
The Nobel laureate's sometimes dense verse and oblique metaphor, spanning close to three hours in its original rendition, are not easily negotiated by even the more experienced Walcottians such as dramatist, Che Rodriguez, who plays Odysseus in the UTT Academy for the Performing Arts (APA) production, much less for the graduating class of talented, young thespians under the hands of director, Marvin Ishmael.
Ishmael, whose credentials include Hollywood acting roles and his work as UTT associate professor, however managed to generate sufficient creative space for an interpretation of the Walcott work that both stimulated the imaginations of the largely young cast and kept a knowledgeable audience at the Napa engaged on April 9.
"This production," Ishmael says in the programme, "pays tribute to the faithfulness of the Caribbean woman and the journey of the Caribbean male back to his rightful place � to home, culture and love."
"It delights in the paradox of the woman being temptress and savior, our crowning glory and our downfall," he says.
Walcott's creative management of Homer's original plot, providing a Caribbean, often absurdist, flavour provided fair game for further exploitation by the UTT players who worked with colleagues in the Academy's music, dance and technical units.
Described by some as a Caribbean-located parody on an old Greek tale related in poetry, Walcott's version opens possibilities for even further contemporary re-telling of the story of the journeys of Odysseus, lord of the Greek island of Ithaca, who leaves by ship to fight in the Trojan War for ten years, is ship-wrecked and spends a further ten years wandering in search of a way back home.
The minute Michael Cherrie, playing Blind Billie Blue, uses the word "cyat" in the opening scene, a giggling audience braces for an extraordinary journey. But, for the most part not many more liberties are taken, except that the giant Cyclops appears as a projected image on the wall and one expletive appeared to rankle a small section of the packed audience.
The fight sequences resemble Brazilian Capoeira and Circe and her nymphs, who lead Odysseus' crew around like leashed pigs, dance and wine temptingly.
A lively, original musical score with dance sequences employing a variety of creative props came together to bring added life to a performance that exploded at times with youthful energy. Charissa Sealey is characteristically convincing in dual roles as Odysseus' wife Penelope and as Helen and Renee King is outstanding as Nausicaa and Anticlea.
More accomplished commentators have noted Walcott's employment of dual roles to provide continuity in the narrative of outward and inward journey. The original script calls for three pairs, but Ishmael expands the concept. Andrea Codrington plays multiple roles, including that of the goddess Athena, while veteran player, Michael Cherrie, is Blind Billie Blue, Demodocus and the Philosopher.
Rodriguez is at his brilliant best and, as guest artist, provides expert examples of dramatic timing and delivery. Eugenia Lemo as Circe does justice to the part while Levee Rodriguez, last memorably seen in The Rose Slip, is Odysseus' son Telemachus, doubling as assistant ship captain, Eurylochus.
Dance choreography for the play was the work of Tevin Daniel, Tichele Ferraz, Omari Anderson, Nika Gasperez and Simeon Peters.
Original music was composed by Mark-Anthony Pierre, James Joseph, Jeuelle Archer, Johann De Freitas and Renaldo Ramai with stage management by Nika Gasparez and costume design by Paulette Alfred, Zamora Simmons and Daniella Walcott who also served as wardrobe manager.
"The journey of The Odyssey has been an exciting one for our cast," Ishmael says. "Nothing is impossible if we can think it visually, emotionally and verbally."
This is a production worthy of an encore.