The Odyssey (2004)
The Odyssey was another Brechtian style epic (with the goddess Athene as narrator) and another journey or rite of passage (this time for the son Telemachus and wife Penelope, who search for the lost father / son, Odysseus, behind the myth and hero), but dealt with as it should in epic anti-heroically. The issues are not debated as such, not in the way they were in The Wife of Bath, but presented to us through Athene’s storytelling.
This seems like a long way from the commedia dell’arte and in many respects it is, yet the characters are archetypes and the traditional relationships between servants and masters, classes and types, the whole body acting, the animal referencing in creating characters and the cabaret style integration of music are all tools of commedia.
While we ‘found ourselves’ with The Wife of Bath, we now began adding other devices, such as the use of verse as well as prose by the narrator, stepping outside the play so that actors can comment on the action as themselves, or within the play characters are given the chance to play other characters to help understand each other. So Athene stops the action and makes Telemachus play his own father at an earlier point in history to help him understand him.
Like commedia this allows the exploration of the surreal or naturalistically impossible. We also developed much more fully something we began in The Wife, what we call ‘knots’, when actors create illusions of objects, for example, ships, by moving as if tied together by invisible threads (something closely related to what is called in the tradition macchina).
The Use of Commedia – Can we work without the traditional Italian family or household structure? Perfectly well. Do we need the leather masks? Better not in England – unless it’s just an archaeological exercise.
Is there a better model for creating archetypal characters than the commedia dell’arte? Probably not. Is there a better technique for whole body acting? Probably not. Is there a greater sphere of reference for physical comedy? Absolutely not.