The Odyssey, Performed in a Honda Odyssey
Image by Machine Project. Still from video shot by Ian Byers-Gamber. Odyssey Odyssey by Johanna Kozma.
Odysseus does not return to the seductive, possessive Kalypso once he escapes her lair in Homer's telling of The Odyssey. But in writer-artist Johanna Kozma's version, he does return. Also, in Kozma's version, he's not just captive; he's an aphrodisiac-addicted sex slave who makes his initial escape in a minivan, not a hand-built raft. And Kalypso's lair is beneath the Vons in Echo Park, not in a seaside cave that smells of cedar and sandal-wood.
Kozma's Odyssey Odyssey -- the redundancy of the title meant to emphasize that this Odyssey specifically takes place in a Honda Odyssey -- has been running since July 16 and continues through July 24, though there's a good chance it will be reprised in September, if not before. None of performances have started before dusk and no audience has exceeded two people.
(If that sounds intriguing, feel free to skip the account of the performance that follows, and just go see it.)
The play starts like this: You meet at the alt space Machine Project, which organized the play as part of its Field Guide to L.A. Architecture, then are led a block and a half north to the Vons and left by your guide at the edge of the parking lot. Within moments, Hermes (Brian Doose), the messenger god sent by Zeus to rescue Odysseus and wearing a red baseball cap, runs toward you. He tells you there's not time, and asks who's going to ride shotgun? My co-audience member said he would as the two of us ran after Hermes, so I climbed in back next to Odysseus (Joey Cannizzaro), whom Hermes had already warned us is a little zoned out, seeing as leaving Kalypso means going through withdrawal. The van has newspaper pages scattered all over, along with other random mess, including big piles of stuff in the back where the third row of seats has been removed.
Photo by Camila Sobral Hermes and Odysseus outside the Odyssey
When you've closed the doors and Hermes has started the car -- a rented Odyssey Kozma acquired after telling the rental company she and her colleagues were going on a multi-week work trip -- there's suddenly frantic banging on the back windows. It's Kalypso, played by Claire Kohne, whose long black wig of hair is flying out in all directions. She chases when Hermes speeds away.
The first night she did this, people in line at the nearby taco stand heard her and ran out to help. Now she warns the taco stand crowd that she's about to cause a scene.
Originally, the route Hermes took was on the 2 and 5 freeways, but after a flaming tanker truck crashed and caused lane closures last weekend, he had to learn a Silver Lake hills route. Riding with him up and down Duane Street and around the Reservoir feels like driving with a friend who has just suffered a break-up and doesn't see the point in making careful turns or easing into stops. If you're an anxious backseat driver, or, worse, prone to carsickness, you'll be on edge.
Odysseus comes to and Kalypso calls repeatedly, a crotch shot popping up on the iPhone propped up in Hermes' cup-holder when she does. Hermes plays Van Morrison and then some eerie ethereal music, and he and Odysseus banter like drunk college friends. There's a lot of "fucking this" and "fuck that," and every once in a while one of them gets deep: Did you know that there was no word for blue in Homer's time? It's why Homer writes "wine dark sea," Odysseus tells us during a lucid moment.
Suddenly Kalypso is there in the van with us (played by Marcus Kuiland-Nazario this time, a much bigger person than Kohne), and she's crawled from the back into Odysseus' seat and is cradling him on her lap, offering everyone a bite of the banana she says she grew herself.
Image by Machine Project. Still from video shot by Ian Byers-Gamber. Inside the Odyssey
Then we're cycling back toward Vons and the whole cast starts to laugh. What kind of escape was that? They start saying existential things about life being a cycle and then, as we pull into the parking lot, Kozma, the playwright and director, pops out from her hiding place in the back of the van, and points out that the whole cycle of life, need to keep eating thing may not have quite gotten across and the cast kicks us out of the van so they can try it again. This final, fourth-wall breaking apology is the only moment in the whole production that felt wrong. Kozma has created a fast-paced, engrossing experience in which you never once expect Odysseus and Hermes to be self-aware enough to convincingly reflect on their own urges. That's a strength, and I wanted the play to own its fantastic flimsiness all the way up until the end.
Catherine Wagley on Twitter:
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Twitter:
Public Spectacle on Facebook: