Saturday, March 3, 2012

Quick Hit Theater Review: Odysseus D.O.A.

The cast of Odysseus D.O.A. Photo Gerry Goddstein
Odysseus D.O.A.
Written and Directed by Stephen Svoboda
Connectiut Repertory Theatre 


Summary:
The regional premiere of Svoboda’s journey into the world of AIDS juxtaposed with the voyage home of classic hero Odysseus. 30-year-old writer Elliot  Hayes (John Bixler) has developed complications from the disease which have left him unable to speak except in short phrases. Obsessed with writing his story, which sounds a great deal like that of Odysseus, Elliot checks into the hospital over the objections of his overprotective mother (soap star Kim Zimmer), from whom he hasn’t been separated since his diagnosis.


Dr. Roberts (Will Graziano) doesn’t give them much hope and head nurse Dorothy (Maggie Sulka) offers more rules and medication than sympathy. Elliot’s arrival, with the oppressive, if well intentioned support of his mother, soon sparks a community of friendship among the patients. They include Resean (Desmond Thorne), a transvestite obsessed with soap operas, focusing on getting better and reclaiming Erica Kane, his daughter named in tribute to his favorite soap star, from foster care; Maha (Briana Maia), a young girl whose only fond memory of her mother is a birthday trip to McDonalds, Nick (Anthony J. Goes), a vulgar ruffian in denial about the illness which has robbed him of his sight and Adam Collins (Coles Prince), drifting in and out of consciousness while he waits for the end.


Elliot and Adam find love despite obstacles, primary among which is Adam’s estranged mother (Jan Radcliff), whose selfish needs for reconciliation lead her to ban Elliot from the room and to keep Adam hooked up to life support contrary to his wishes. Each of the characters takes on a second identity from Homer’s Odyssey in Elliot’s ever-present story journal. 


Highlights:
What appears at the start to be merely “another play about AIDS” soon distinguishes itself as a compelling work with surprisingly likable characters. Community, rather than the disease which brings them together emerges as the theme and Elliot’s voyage become less a reproduction of the voyage of a hero and more a depiction of everyone’s journey and the difference one can make through caring.


Svoboda, directing his work, gets some very strong performances from the ensemble, particularly Bixler, who communicates volumes with short phrases, then morphs into the articulate reading of his story. Also standing out is Radcliff who manages to show a compassionate, caring side to someone, who on the surface, appears as cold as ice. The scenes where the patients swirl hospital screens and board a hospital bed in full sail to depict Odysseus at sea are really quite clever. (Allison McGrath designs the set which smoothly blends modern and ancient elements.)


Lowlights:
It take a while to get into the play, so give it a chance. Some of the lighting is a bit stark (Kwame Tucker, design).


Information:
The show ends its run March 4 in the Nafe Katter Theatre, Storrs.  For tickets and information call 860-486-4226 or visit www.crt.uconn.edu.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced
numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont
Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.”

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway
League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway
run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill
Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/. She
is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), CT Press Club's award winner of first place for web editing and second place in feature writing for the web in 2012.

She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor
for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web. Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented
by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle (awards committee).

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts,
the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

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