Review: Odyssey (Co-production – Why Not Theatre and Theatre Ad Infinitum)

By George Perry

George Mann in Odyssey

An extraordinary and engaging interpretation of Homer’s Odyssey was recently onstage at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre Extra Space. Why Not Theatre and Theatre Ad Infinitum have collaborated to bring this acclaimed one-man show to Toronto. There is only one artist on this black, desolate stage. However, George Mann is compelling, with nothing more than his sheer talent and passion.

Mann gives an epic performance of an epic canon of Western literature. His range of emotion, his ability to believably play so many characters is something that needs to be seen to be believed. Fortunately, Ravi Jain, Artistic Director for Why Not Theatre has made sure that as many people as possible see and benefit from seeing this production.

Stan and I felt out of place at this show at first. As we approached the theatre, we noticed two empty school buses outside. The lucky young adults had filled the lobby of The Tarragon. Joining them, Stan and I felt like creepy intruders. It was my day off and I wanted it to be warm and sunny. I wanted to be outdoors watching a baseball game. We probably didn’t score too many points for complaining about the bar being closed either.

We sat in the front row and took in all the vastness and possibilities that an empty black stage had to offer. Mann filled up the stage, our imaginations and then some.

He plays all the characters, keeps us engaged, and hides behind nothing, not even a guitar or microphone. He also provides all the sound effects. At times I found the sound effects compelling. At other times they interfered with my interest in the narrative. Stan loved it. It seemed a bit like “that guy from Police Academy” at times for me.

When Mann fought the Cyclops, it was comforting, like falling asleep on the floor as a young boy watching a Sinbad movie with my dad.

The reason I call the students fortunate is manifold. I’m sure they studied Homer’s Odyssey before seeing this show. To see a man as gifted as Mann bring a classic poem to life is something that is surely going to stick with them for the rest of their lives.

I think a lot of other important lessons were brought home to this fortunate few. Inspiration is a word used by both Jain and Theatre Ad Infinitum. We left the theatre assured that the audience was inspired on many levels: Mann’s performance, Ravi Jain’s accomplishments and vision, international cooperation.

There’s a fine old American songwriter called Bruce Springsteen. He sings about jammed highways, broken heroes and epic road trips. He once wrote “We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned at school.” Americans are all about epic journeys. They are always going somewhere, be it California, the moon, or war. They also value individualism and entrepreneurial endeavours.

Springsteen’s Born to Run is the modern, American equivalent of The Odyssey. He is an inspirational, positive leader, and so is Ravi Jean.

I’m certain that a big part of the audience was inspired by the collaborative efforts to which they were treated. There is no doubt that a lot of them learned more from a 60 minute play than they ever learned at school. Some of them may even walk on the moon, who knows. Odyssey is at once a kick in the pants and the encouragement this generation needs. Be it Bruce Springsteen or George Mann onstage, there are certain individuals who inspire a generation.

In the end, The Odyssey is just another love story. Odyssius goes through his journey to get back to his wife, Persephone. Mann and Jain are no doubt embarking upon their wonderful journey for their love of theatre, education and humanity.

I don’t have kids, but if I did, and they were teenagers, I would take them to this play. Seeing it at my age, with my retired friend Stan, we’re both reinvigorated and feeling good about being alive.

We also left with renewed faith in the younger generation. A Toronto weekly ran a cover story saying something about it being a bad time to be young. With Jain and Mann at the helm of this generation’s ship, you’d be a fool to expect the future to be anything other than brilliant .

If you are young and reading this, don’t listen to those old geysers telling you life sucks. Don’t even listen to numbskulls like me complaining about the bar being closed. Listen to facts like alternatives to oil are just around the corner. Be aware that information, travel and communication are becoming simpler, and be aware that the future is unwritten.

Build on Jain and Mann’s energy – and go see more of their work!

-Odyssey ran January 27-30 at The Tarragon Theatre Extra Space in Toronto.

Photo of George Mann