Friday, June 11, 2010

Do not miss Working Group's Odyssues, Iowa

by Matthew Falduto

Working Group - When people ask me why I live in the Iowa City area, I always talk about the theatre opportunities here. If you're a reader of this blog you know how incredible our theatre community is. So many different experiences await you in this town. I've seen a lot of unique theatre in my nearly 20 years in Iowa, but tonight's performance of Odysseus, Iowa by Working Group was the first time I'd ever experienced theatre where the landscape of Iowa was an important character. The play is performed in various locations on a farm. This is promenade theatre, where the audience follows the action to different areas. When was the last time you've been to promenade theatre? That's what I thought. Go or you'll regret it!

The story is a familiar one, very loosely based on the epic poem The Odyssey by Homer. We follow the heroic journey of Odie (Martin Andrews), who has lost his love, Penny (Maggie Blake), in a flood and must traverse many obstacles to find her. Odie is accompanied on his journey by John (John Watkins), a troubadour who plays the guitar. It's a search for love, but of course there's a modern twist at the end that might fly over the heads of the kids, though was much appreciated by the adult audience, I'm sure.

All of the actors embrace the witty and sometimes farcical material, from Andrews' sincerely lovelorn hero to Watkins' laid back singer, who also composed the original music he played for the show. Brian Quijada and Luke Schares shine in all of their supporting roles, but especially so as the SloMos, two frat boys who have been scavenging stuff from the flood. The script, written by Jennifer Fawcett and Sean Christopher Lewis, is tight and moves us quickly through the action. There is not a flaw in the show and when it was over after a brief 60 minutes or so, I wanted more.

But what's truly unique about Odysseus, Iowa is how Iowa's landscape became a character in the show. The play opens with Odie looking for Penny, who we see off in the distance in a beautiful green field, before she disappears into the distance. It's a stunningly beautiful theatrical moment that is possible only because of the location. As we follow Odie and John on their journey, different character leap out of small buildings or pontificate from atop a wooden structure. The climax of the play occurs in a barn-like building with a hard concrete floor. Every last bit of humidity of the evening was locked in there with us, but it was the perfect setting for this final encounter with the most feared creature, the Cyclops. (And fortunately, we got to leave the furnace building before too long.) Every setting was carefully chosen for maximum impact. This is bold, original theatre that challenges convention.

My nine-year-old daughter accompanied me to the show and she loved it. This is a perfect show to take your kids to see. It's a wonderful story, with honest and genuine performances, amidst a beautiful setting. I can't recommend it enough. It's not as far out there in the country as you think it is. Here are the directions:

Take Highway 1 to the southwest of Iowa City towards Kalona. Take a left on to Maier Avenue (gravel) which takes an S curve and winds past a small subdivision (on your left.) At the first intersection, take a right onto Osage. The Country Camp will be on your right - it's the only property on the road. Please park on the road (don’t go too far onto the side – the ditch is deep!)

There's only one more show - tomorrow night at 7 pm. Don't miss it!

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