One-Man "Odysseus" Works Wonders for Kids and Adults Alike

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Strange visions indeed are conjured when you hear about a one-person show at the Fringe Festival based on the epic tale of Odysseus. A  Lusty story of bacchanals with  the witch goddess Circe. Breaking bread with the Laestrygorian cannibals. Nodding off with the Lotus-Eaters.

While Circe gets a mention in Josh Feinman’s solo performance Voyage of Odysseus, along with such notable adversaries as the Cyclops and the Sirens, the focus in his family-friendly version is simple fun and entertainment. What’s remarkable is that he sustains the light-heartedness in his show while also capturing the spirit, if not the fullness, of a story that has been told in some fashion for nearly 3,000 years.

Feinman began performing the show 12 years ago in partnership with Enrichment Works, a non-profit that brings interactive kids shows into Los Angeles-area shows. It relies heavily on children. He chooses four from the audience to serve as his crew, another to portray his son, and picks grown-ups to fill-in for Circe and Penelope, his wife. Part of the fun is watching Feinman interact with the kids, all of whom exhibit different levels of enthusiasm. One will spring to life on stage, while another may have a hard time grasping his simple direction, such as pantomiming rowing. But he obviously knows how to work with kids and is both patient and firm, such as when one of the youngsters kept interrupting him with questions and commentary.

A gifted physical actor, Feinman peppers his performance with facial contortions and silly walks and even though he’s both director, performer, traffic cop and, occasionally, elementary school teacher, he keeps the free-wheeling intensity on track, kind of an important thing to do when relating some of the key points of a 20-year saga in less than an hour.

The adaptation is a very thin Cliff’s Note of The Odyssey. We get a quick set-up to the Trojan War, Odysseus’ encounters with the cyclops, Circe and Sirens, and his return home in disguise as he attempts to reclaim his throne and family. Because it’s a kid’s show, it’s very light on the gore and adult situations, both of which play important roles in most versions of the story. For instance, no mention is made that Odysseus shacked up with Circe for several years, or that after unveiling his true identity, he and his son slaughtered all the suitors clamoring to marry his wife.

But as an introduction to both the source tale, and as a reminder of  how mesmerizing theater can be with nothing but a few simple props, a talented performer and a meaty story, Voyage of Odysseus works wonders. Grown-ups can appreciate Feinman’s talent and the opportunity to turn their minds off for a little while in favor of their imaginations, while kids will absolutely get a kick out of it. Who knows, maybe a few of the rug-rats will get turned onto the power of an ancient medium that doesn’t rely on a game console or internet connection to work, and might want to read the tale in an actual book. Or, even more revolutionary, they might be infected with that pernicious virus that has outlasted every empire and epoch: live theater.

Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. through June 28. Theatre Asylum’s Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, 
www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2357