Photo courtesy of Theater Mitu

Classic Homer poem redefined in NYUAD production of 'The Odyssey'

Photo courtesy of Theater Mitu Cast and crew are hard at work as “The Odyssey” approaches its opening night next week. This performance of Homer's epic ...

Apr 13, 2013

Photo courtesy of Theater Mitu
Cast and crew are hard at work as “The Odyssey” approaches its opening night next week.
This performance of Homer's epic poem, which dates back to the 8th century B.C. in the time of oral storytelling tradition, was adapted for the stage by director and Associate Professor of Theater Rubén Polendo. The ancient tale follows the hero Odysseus as he makes his way home from the Trojan War to his wife Penelope, a journey that takes 10 years.
According to lead actor and sophomore Nikolai Kozak, who plays Odysseus, this adaptation breaks age-old preconceptions of “The Odyssey.”
“There’s nothing straightforward in this adaptation and this means taking risks that will only pay off on opening night,” he said.
Freshman Anishka Arseculeratne, assistant student director, said that Polendo's adaptation deviates from traditional interpretations of “The Odyssey.”
“The use of suggestion and metaphor really interests me in this production ... you will see what I mean,” she continued.
All members of cast and crew enigmatically refrained from speaking too much of the production.
Sophomore Valentina Vela, who plays the lead role Penelope, Odysseus' wife, said, “It is an adaptation where every single element works to bring about conversations around themes, characters and storytelling.”
The adaptation's use of characters is unconventional. Jules Bello plays multiple characters and explained that this has presented the greatest challenge for her. She will be playing Athena, Cyclops, a Siren and a Journey. While the first three are familiar roles, Bello remained obscure about the role of a Journey, saying, “I don’t want to give too much away.”
According to Bello, this adaptation of “The Odyssey” brings out the idea of connections.
Reflecting on the most interesting part of the play, she said, “Instead of a journey home, Polendo's bringing out a lot of connections that people don't pay attention to usually. Connections between characters, and also connections to the audience.”
“I have to find versions of my characters that feel comfortable to me and translate to the audience,” Bello said.
Polendo's direction emphasizes a react and respond relationship between the actors and their audience. The style is reminiscent of stichomythia, the Greek tragedy technique in which two antithetical characters exchange quick alternating lines, intensifying the rhythm and drama of the scene. The difference is that one player is the actor on stage and the other player is the audience. The audience becomes more involved in this style of theatre.
"We treat our audience like few others do, we demand an incredible amount of imagination and engagement," Kozak said.
Vale believes that the NYUAD audience will be able to connect to the performance.
“The play is relevant to us,” she said, referring to NYUAD students. “This is a play about going home, believing in home and creating a home against all odds.”
“I'm surprised by how much it speaks to us, to our community and to me personally,” she added.
Kozak agreed, commenting, “there’s always an element of trust in your audience, that they’ll share with you in the world you’ve created.”
Kozak forewarned that the world of Polendo’s “The Odyssey” is strange.
“It is so unlike anything you would ever tie with ‘The Odyssey.’ People are going to enter the space and wonder, ‘How could this possibly turn into 'The Odyssey?’”
For sophomore and actor Otto Kakhidze, this adaptation speaks of childhood.
“It transforms home from a spatial to a temporal place,” he said. Childhood as home, that's my own interpretation.”
The evocative adaptation encourages each person to engage with it individually, according to Kakhidze.
“There are thought-provoking moments and I expect the audience to seize on them,” he said.
Inviting unique responses, each performance of “The Odyssey” is unlikely to be the same. Even Vela experiences the performance differently each time.
“I hear pieces of the text in a different way every time we run it,” Vale said, “The play, and the beautiful people working on it, keep surprising me every day.”
Many of the actors are emotionally invested in the production, and for good reason. As Vela said, it is an intense commitment. Beginning this past week, cast and crew have been rehearsing at Manarat al Saadiyat five hours a day on weekdays and eight hours on Saturdays.
The enigma surrounding Polendo's adaptation and the force of students working on the play, from acting to directing to marketing to costume design, promises a fascinating performance. It seems to be the nature of Polendo's concept that “The Odyssey” will keep you guessing.
“Anything can happen,” Kozak said.
There will be four performances of “The Odyssey” at 8 p.m. from Thursday, April 18 to Saturday, April 20 with a matinee 2 p.m. performance on Friday. Reservations are free for students, and available on the Student Portal.
Joey Bui is a staff writer. Email her at
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