Finding Your Neighbor Onstage at the Globe | Voice of San Diego

Arts/Culture

Finding Your Neighbor Onstage at the Globe

The thing that really captured our arts editor’s imagination was
the intersecting of groups and neighborhoods and races and
specialties in The Old Globe’s production of ‘Odyssey.’

 

“Who are you? Where are you from? How did you end up here?”

Journalists often hear complaints from people like our moms or other shoppers in the grocery store that we dwell on negatives, delight in broken systems and prey on pessimistic, if juicy, storylines. Some of this is true. When we’re learning to do this job, we’re reminded no one writes a story about the thousands of times the airplanes take off successfully; what makes something unusual or newsworthy is the one, tragic, time the plane doesn’t take off.

But I wonder if sometimes we’re not as good at spotting, or giving time to, the stories that are as unusual as that flight disaster, but unusual instead in their hopefulness or optimism.

Optimistic against the backdrop of some real, big, hard things. Our county is separated. We live in different realms, in 18 different cities just in San Diego County, in still more neighborhoods beyond that, in pockets of interests and race and how much money is in our bank accounts. Even among the “arts community,” the niche and neighborhood boundaries are tough to penetrate.

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When I first heard director Lear deBessonet and composer Todd Almond were cooking up this “Odyssey” production, my curiosity was piqued. They went outside the boundaries of a typical play for the Globe, inviting to the stage the choir from one of the oldest African-American churches in town and the Culture Shock hip-hop dancers, the kids from Junior Theatre and the Valhalla High School drumline, to name just a sliver. They found their cast in the middle of the city, and in the ranks of the socialites at the Globe, and through the YMCA in one of the poorest areas of town.

The play opened last night for its three-night run this weekend with three questions:

“Who are you? Where are you from? How did you end up here?”

DeBessonet had found surprisingly epic stories when she asked those questions to the people she interviewed over the last couple of years, conceiving this play. But what she and Almond and the Globe offered last night through the larger-than-life stories and characters they presented was the exploration of a different, deeper question.

So you came to San Diego. Here we are. How now will we treat each other?

It’s not how a man behaves, but how he treats a stranger that’s important, one of the musical’s lyrics suggests.

The production places Odysseus’s men in scary scenario after scarier scenario as they try to get the king home to Ithaca. They battle a one-eyed beast, played by food writer Troy Johnson, who eats men and, he growls, savors the taste of fear.

After all of those troubles, Odysseus returns, disguised as a beggar, to his land. The men who’ve been making moves on his mourning wife, Penelope, treat him terribly. They’re shamed when he reveals it’s him, Odysseus.

The scene suggests an alternative way to seeing what we think we know — what if that beggar is a king?

I had a few people ask me why I’ve been spending so much time covering this play. I think the thing that really captured my imagination was this intersecting of groups and neighborhoods and races and specialties. The way an institution like the Globe — an important, prestigious, national institution — sought in this effort to define itself in the neighborhood of San Diego. The way dozens of people who likely never see plays there, perhaps didn’t even understand what the Globe even is, could not only come but be in the production. The way director deBessonet and her entire team stared down the logistical one-eyed beast that is coordinating 200 people’s schedules and made this work when it’d have been easier to exclude a group or two and get some more sleep.

And the way the story, presented with hip-hop interludes and eerie kids’ singing and a unicycle and green-wigged ladies, suggests to us that there’s more to living in a place than taking care of just ourselves.

I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531.

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