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 

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. 

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.)

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).

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

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