Black Odyssey at Cal Shakes re-imagines the story of Odysseus working his way home from the war. In Marcus Gardley‘s play, the protagonist is African-American soldier Ulysses Lincoln, trying to get back home to Oakland from service in Iraq. It had its West Coast premiere there last year, and returns by popular demand, running tonight through October 7th at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda.
There’s more information at the Cal Shakes website.
“I love the notion of retelling a story and adding your own thread to it,” says Gardley, who himself was born and raised in Oakland. “This piece in particular, I’ve always loved the Odyssey, and what I love so much about it is that it’s an epic, in which it goes on these tangents, these beautiful tangents. It just to me expresses the free nature and the largeness of story telling told in the oral tradition. African American storytelling originated in this way as well, and so I thought, I was trying to bring those two elements together.” The two traditions intertwine, with characters Paw Sidin standing in for Poseidon, and Aunt Tina for Athena. “He’s a soldier who served in the Iraq war, there is a subtle inference that he could – may be suffering from PTSD, but that’s never mentioned. But his journey, unlike Odysseus, is one in which he’s travelling in his own blood. So his own blood is like the sea, if you will, and his own blood is African-American history. So he’s traversing through African-American history to find home.” As an adaptation, Gardley felt the story could go anywhere, while still keeping true to the known elements of Homer’s original. “I’ve stayed faithful. The characters, the sort of monsters and creatures from the Odyssey all have been changed. There’s some semblance of them from the original, but they all have been changed for my own making and flavor.” It was written when Gardley lived in Harlem, and the first production in Denver had Harlem as Lincoln’s home. “I loved that production, but I also felt like, ‘this doesn’t feel like home to me.’ And so when I had the opportunity to do it at Cal Shakes, I just changed everything, and now this is where it will stay.”