By DON FOWLER
Trinity Rep’s production of Marcus Gardley’s “Black Odyssey,” based on Homer’s epic work, is truly epic theatre at its finest. With a cast led by Trinity regulars Joe Wilson Jr. and Jude Sandy, who co-direct the play, Trinity has taken the story of Ulysses’ quest for meaning in his tragic life and turned it into a modern day fable.
Wilson plays Ulysses Lincoln, a Gulf War veteran who lives with the guilt of having senselessly killed a man. He is lost at sea, seeking his way back to his wife and son, while trying to remember his past and reclaim his sense of purpose.
Ulysses is controlled in his quest by the gods who play a game of chess with his life. Jude Sandy is the Great Grand Daddy Deus who vies with Great Grand Paw Sidon (Omar Robinson, a great actor based in Boston) god of the sea, whose son was killed by Ulysses.
We follow Ulysses on his long and arduous journey, while back home his wife (Kaylne Coleman) holds out hope that he is still alive, while their son grows to a rebellious teenager during his absence.
Julia Lema is outstanding as the goddess Athena who comes down to earth posing as Aunt Tina, giving Ulysses’ wife support and hope.
Kara Harman’s costumes add to the enjoyment, especially in the second act where Sandy shows up as Superfly, along with three modern performers in masks. Choreography and songs have been added to enhance the experience.
Gardley is anything but subtle in comparing the injustices of ancient Greece with the treatment of African Americans throughout our history. The second act opens with an in-your-face scolding by Ulysses, as Wilson stands front and center talking (preaching) to the audience about social injustice.
If I have any problem with the play, it must lie in the overwriting by Gardley, who tends to make his point dramatically, and then make it over again to be sure that the audience gets it. This pushes the production to nearly three hours with intermission.
Gardley and the acting company know how to find humor in a difficult situation, throwing in a few zingers along the way, while still getting the cruel messages of racial injustice, the importance of family, and the quest for meaning in one’s life.
“Black Odyssey” is at Trinity Rep Through February 3. Call 351-4242 for reservations.