Theatre NDSU Presents “The Odyssey”

JUSTIN EILER | PHOTO COURTESY
The goddess Athena (Marissa Koppy, left) must help wayward traveler and soldier Odysseus (Daniel Ajak, right) on his perilous journey home, fighting monsters, nymphs and the desires of the gods.

A night at the theater is full of comedy, drama and a special kind of magic that can only be experienced during a live show. Actors bear their souls in front of hundreds of people while audience members have a chance to cry, laugh and marvel at the performances.

A chance to witness this magic is coming up. North Dakota State is presenting Mary Zimmerman’s “The Odyssey” in late April and early May in Askanase Auditorium. This production will be quite true to the original “Odyssey” epic poem by Homer, but slightly more streamlined with the Robert Fitzgerald translation.

The story follows Odysseus as he struggles to make his way home after the fall of Troy. A beautiful nymph, Calypso, imprisons the Greek hero for several years on her island, while the wife of Odysseus, Penelope, fights off potential suitors.

Eventually, Odysseus escapes from Calypso, but the gods and goddesses of Olympus don’t make his trip home easy, fighting over the fate of the poor hero.

One immensely exciting thing about this upcoming show is it uses contemporary music while playing around with the idea of what “epic” means in 2017.

While everyone immediately thinks of a classic Greek epic, the directors and actors are bringing this grand idea into modern times. Keeping a classic story that can relate to modern audiences is a smart choice, giving a rare opportunity to see a more intimate, human side to some grand characters like Athena and Poseidon.

Chelsea Pace, assistant professor of movement, is an NDSU faculty member codirecting the show with Kara Jeffers.

Jeffers, a senior journalism major, is honored to be the first student ever to direct a show on the main stage.

JUSTIN EILER | PHOTO COURTESY
Homer’s original tale of Odysseus’s struggle home after the Trojan War is retold on Theatre NDSU’s stage this April and May, with Daniel Ajak playing Odysseus.

It has always been a goal of the theater department to have a student direct, and Jeffers fulfilled that goal by “working her butt off and turning in a really great application.”

Codirecting is an interesting challenge, allowing the two to specialize and play to their strengths. Jeffers is skilled at personalized work with the actors, getting them to really connect with their characters and the other actors.

On the other hand, Pace is good at looking at the big picture and incorporating movement in the best way possible. The show is near and dear to Pace’s heart, as she loved the poem as a teenager and revels in the fact that she gets to bring it to life in a special way.

This play is part of the Mary Zimmerman Festival, put on in conjunction with Concordia and Minnesota State University Moorhead to celebrate the famous playwright.

Zimmerman got to drop by an early rehearsal for the NDSU crew, giving inspiration to the performers while answering questions about the script. Having the playwright literally in the room with the cast was very exciting and useful, giving NDSU students and faculty a chance to clarify characters and give more motivation for the rest of the long rehearsals.

“Mary Zimmerman coming was a really big deal, really just showing that we’re all artists,” Pace said. “You can’t choose fame, but at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to do our thing by working hard and producing great work.”

Loud action scenes, perfectly executed fighting and several actors on stage at once are prevalent in this play, but Pace’s favorite moment is when Odysseus is standing on stage, completely alone with the fabric swaying behind him to simulate a light breeze. It’s an intimate moment of silence within a loud show, giving the audience a moment to focus on a single person and not get lost in the journey.

To see this journey in action, tickets are free for NDSU students and can be ordered online.

For anyone looking for a much-needed escape from the craziness of finals week, the show has performances at 7:30 p.m. on April 27-29 and May 4-6 with a matinee at 10 a.m. on May 3 in Askanase Auditorium.

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