Melissa James Gibson's gender-bending take on The Odyssey is clever but passionless.
Gibson, whose previous plays include [sic] and Suitcase, has turned Odysseus, now called Od (Jesse Lenat), into a contemporary Mr. Mom. He's left at home with daughter Tel (Casie Platt), as wife Pen trots off to Troy as a war photographer. Od dominates the first half of this 90-minute trifle, faithfully waiting for Pen to return to the marital bed he keeps warm with hot rocks, and raising their precocious child alone.
As the years drag on, he is eventually beset by a trio of film documentarians, who move into his glossy apartment and vie for his amorous attentions, while turning his daily life into media fodder. There is apparently some point to be made here about media manipulation and its role in modern life, especially as we see much of the story's action broadcast live, either from center stage or from backstage, onto a large video screen prominently perched above all. And when we finally meet Pen, she is holding forth at a news conference, defending her dalliances with various gods and still trying to finish her long journey home.
Pen is properly cunning, but Kirk is never allowed to reach into the rich center of the character to deal with the ravages of temptation and redemption. Pen's arch and pointed storytelling is no substitute for real feeling. We care more about Od and Tel, because we see their psychic wounds and feel their pain, thanks to vibrant, accessible performances from Lenat and Platt. The result is a thematic imbalance, and we are left wanting more than comically caustic commentary and occasionally drippy dialogue.
Director Daniel Aukin, Gibson's longtime collaborator, focuses much of his attention on the electronics. He adroitly uses the video projections, a fuzzy, black-and-white mix of live and recorded action, as counterpoint to the flesh-and-blood actors. Indeed, some action that might be gruesome to see in three dimensions, such as when Pen returns home in disguise and assassinates the interlopers in her home, ends up less shocking when viewed through a lens. But overuse of the medium puts sentiments and passions behind a filter, too, and passion once removed is passion diminished.
Tony Cisek's sleek setting, a modern home of black marble, richly burnished wood, and streamlined shapes, is both attractive and versatile. It's a suitably gilded cage for Od and Tel to deal with the pain of Pen's absence.