Jacksonville’s Episcopal School presented the World Premier of “Father to Son: An Odyssey” from November 13 – 15, 2014 at the Munnerlyn Center Theatre on campus.

This play was written by award-winning playwright Kelby Siddons, who was also the Director and Sound Designer. She is an English teacher at Episcopal, and wrote her version of this story over the summer to assist her students with their studies of Homer’s work, using language and concepts to make the work more accessible to both students and adults.

The story is that of Odysseus the King of Ithaca and his prolonged and difficult journey home after the Trojan War. The war, which lasted for ten years, was followed by ten years of wandering, which included many unfortunate encounters, often instigated by gods angry at the conduct of the war. His subjects presume he is dead, and many potential suitors visit his home to woe his wife Penelope (Ashley Crenshaw). She is a model of fidelity, who believes her husband remains alive. While she tolerates the presence of the unruly suitors during their nightly parties, she has no intention of marrying.

THEATRE_Odyssey-image (1)Athena (Amanda Strenta), the goddess of wisdom, asks Zeus, her father and king of the gods, to intervene and rescue Odysseus. She arranges with Hermes (Keaton Boyd), one of the lesser gods, to assist her and send Odysseus’s son Telemachus (Jonathan Ryals) on a journey to find his father. Hermes is a cool cat, also known as the messenger god and sometimes as the trickster god. The audience loved him because he was an early adaptor of the shell phone, and used a skateboard and a bicycle for transportation.

Telemachus begins his quest on a raft with a crew of sailors played by Meg Slay, Jack Whelan, Anna Baumeister, Anna BlakeAnna BaumeisterJack WhelanMeg Slay and Arabella Carvalho. During the long trip, the son has frequent visits from the enchanted Ocean, which supports the voyage with directions and provisions. The Ocean is depicted by Kate He, Kaiden KetchumKaiden Ketchum and Katie Mutter, who enter and exit silently and gracefully.

The searchers encounter many dangers which are re-enactments of those previously experienced by Odysseus. The Cyclops (Matt Porter) is a one-eyed monster that Telemachus manages to blind with the help of his crew, who had been held prisoners. Unfortunately, Poseidon, the powerful god of the sea, is the father of Cyclops. He is greatly angered by his son’s injury and as vengeance, increases the perils of sea journey.

Their next encounter is with the Sirens, a group of about twenty, known for their seductive singing which lured mariners to their death. The sailors successfully resist their allurements; Telemachus has the crew bind him to the mast and the crew members fill their ears with beeswax. The alluring song for the production was composed by Choral Director Tina Harrell, and performed by an ever-changing ensemble.

After escaping the Sirens, the searchers find themselves on an island of Lotus Eaters (Jane Birk, [p2p type="post_tag" value="Kaelen Kindy"]Kaelen Kindy, and Katie Mutter), who offer their visitors drugs that induce stupors. Telemachus refuses to partake and manages to rescue his crew and leave the island.

The next obstacle they face is the witch Circe (Mariama Pouye) and her handmaidens, played by Margaux Halloran, Xarria Taylor, Maya Weed and Maia Wells. Circe’s magic turns the crew into pigs but a compromise is reached with the help of Hermes. This scene has a lively dance party, and, apparently happy to be normal again, the men stay with Circe for an entire year.

Circe advises Telemachus to visit the Underworld, where Tiresias (Kaiden Ketchum), a blind prophet with an invisible dog, will explain how to avoid further pitfalls on the trip home. The Underworld, filled with Shades, reminded us of the TV show “The Living Dead,” with its many zombie-like characters.

However, it is not a quick sail home, as Zeus destroys the raft after the crew kills a herd of sacred cattle. Telemachus, the only survivor, finds himself washed up on the shore of the island ruled by the goddess Calypso (Loren Calderon), an amorous character costumed in a bright party dress. She is desperate to find a husband and refuses to let Telemachus go until Zeus intercedes at the urging of Athena and he is finally freed and he makes his way home.

The carousers were Eurymachus (Travis Williams), Antinous (Darius Newbill), and Helenus (Conor Chepenik), along with others (portrayed by Will Cunkle, Kris Hodges, Jessie McCaffrey, Dominique Newbill, Chase Scovill, Christian Suddath, and Gary Vickers); attended by Celeste Burns as a disloyal servant.

Others in the cast included Odysseus (Brett Foster) and Eurcleia the nurse (Jessica Fondo). Many of the actors in featured roles doubled back in various parts (like the zombies) and were joined by ensemble members Annabelle Combs, Katharine Conklin, Sarah Cumella, Hayden Ginder, Kimberly Hogan, Cody Lee, and Kim Van.

Jonathan Ryals was on stage for almost the entire show in the leading role of Telemachus, a demanding portrayal which he handled with great skill.

The set by Johnny Pettegrew was minimal and abstract, which placed the action in a classical setting and allowed the cast to move freely. Towering white columns, along with stairs, statuary platforms, and tables were included.

The evocative lighting was by Technical Director/ Lighting Designer Megan Elsila. Fog machines, with various colors at times, were effectively used throughout the production. The sound, with many evocative musical selections, was excellent and was produced by Director Siddons and Sound Reinforcer Ian McCook.

The costumes by Carol Siddons and her assistant Candy Edwards were largely Grecian, but also included some modern dress and fantasy costumes.

Director Kelby Siddons was assisted by Katie Black and Jessie McCaffrey, in a polished and flawlessly presented production, filled with life lessons. Bravo to all the actors for their performances.

As we have written before, the Munnerlyn Theatre at Episcopal School is a marvelous theatre venue, with a superb sound system. All the actors were expertly miked. The sight lines of the large stage are outstanding and the theatre seats are remarkably comfortable.

We hope to see “From Father to Son: An Odyssey” published, as it is a fine piece of theater, one that many university and high school drama groups would embrace.


About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.