Company: InFusion Theatre Co
Venue: Chopin Theatre
Die Roll: 4
Another week, another play that claims ties to classic Greek myth. At its heart, ITHAKA by Andrea Stolowitz is a play about one woman’s journey. One that is both literal and figurative. Lanie, a veteran of the recent war in Afghanistan, is played by Meredith Rae Lyons as a woman with emotional walls firmly entrenched to keep others at a more than safe distance while she struggles with inner torments that came back with her from the war.
At first Lyons’s portrayal is off-putting and alienating, but then, it should be. She truly captures what it is to be a person out of place. Her reactions to those around her are not able to be understood by those who haven’t shared the experience, and that includes the overwhelming majority of the audience. What we can identify with is the reactions of those around her.
Once Lanie has hurt or shoved away her former friends, the neighbors, and her husband (played by Nick Freed), she hits the road. Her journey is prompted by the arrival of fellow former marine Evie (played by the very charismatic AnJi White). The road trip is the journey starting here. The emotional one toward healing of the guilt carried within Lanie doesn’t really start until later.
That I think is one of my main concerns with this play. The script itself doesn’t really get going for a while. And when it does, it only does so half way. Finally, when it reaches the starting point of both journeys, the play is nearly half over. It feels like the script is spinning its wheels. While it’s clear that Lanie is at that point, the script ought to not be crafted to do the same. Otherwise we’re left wondering why we should care about the main character. We’re not shown her previously positive life with her husband, so we’re not saddened by its loss. The interaction between Bill (the husband) and Lanie could have been stronger, more caring, more vulnerable from the male side, thereby giving us something to root for, but that isn’t there.
Director Mitch Golob did what he could with the piece and admirably kept it from being a long series of glances at my watch (although a periodic one was still unavoidable). The design concept depended heavily on a large rear-projection screen that functioned as a cyclorama and almost the entire set of the play. That simplicity was a solid foundation for the complexity of the images projected upon it. Both the images themselves, and the timing of them were really well executed, and while reviews seldom mention the work of the stage manager, I would be remiss if I did not. Tara Malpass Brabant, I salute you! You had your hands full running the lights, sound, and projections for this show. The scene changes occasionally lasted longer than the scenes in between, but again that’s a failing of the script in this case. The attempted cinematic style of jumping scene to scene made we wonder if the playwright might have fared better by writing a screenplay. Very few of the scenes benefited from being on stage. The scenes that contained inherent theatricality were some of the most alive. AnJi White returned in the second half of the play as the embodiment of Lanie’s now-deceased pet cat. That turn of events can only happen on stage, and it shined as one of the plays strongest moments, as did Lyons’s intermittent stand-up routines, which broke the fourth wall with some success.
When a play is compared to the Odyssey, both in promotional pieces, and within the play itself, one starts to look for similarities and to draw comparisons. At least one tries. The thing is, there aren’t any similarities, per se. The one exception is the physical journey. I guess one could make an argument that a 72-hour stay in a psych ward might be the equivalent of the lost years on the island with Calypso. If that’s the case, then the night nurse Jacob (played convincingly by Andrew L. Saenz) is the surrogate for the Ogygia-bound nymph. Saenz brings a truthfulness to his character which makes this detour on the voyage the most believable and effective. Sadly the rest of the journey doesn’t really measure up to the epic tale to which we are inevitably called upon to compare it.
Also, the journey remains incomplete. Once we discover the point of the journey (seeking forgiveness for the death of a comrade) one must look back and wonder why we were introduced to the husband character at all. Unlike Odysseus’s journey, Lanie’s does not end with a return to her beloved. It ends abruptly and with as little explanation as most of the rest of the play, which leaves the whole thing feeling incomplete.
TEN WORD SUMMARY: Damaged war vet seeks healing forgiveness. Why is Odysseus here?
RATING: d8 – “Not Bad, Not Great”