Naught Funny

A Greek classic gets turned into a screwball comedy.

If you're going to rewrite The Odyssey, then Homer's epic should serve as a vital inspiration rather than a literary crutch. Melissa James Gibson's Current Nobody, making its West Coast premiere at Exit Theatre, is a loose and precious adaptation that carefully avoids a meaningful engagement with its epic predecessor, resorting instead to uninspired glibness and goofiness. Audiences might wonder, for instance, why anyone thought it was a good idea to stage the poem's climactic recognition scenes with actors in Groucho Marx glasses; it's definitely a dubious achievement to transform one of the most moving scenes in Western literature into a failed attempt at screwball comedy.

Gibson tries to freshen up the original by introducing a few major role reversals: Odysseus ("Od" in this version) stays home in modern-day Ithaca while his wife, Penelope ("Pen"), a photojournalist, travels to war-torn Troy. Then, during her 20-year absence, a parasitic crew of "indie docufilmmakers" invades the house to document Od's grief. In one of the play's least compelling transformations, the filmmakers eventually turn from voyeuristic documentarians into ravenous suitors. This fits into a larger pattern: Over its 90-minute length, the show seems to enact Gibson's dawning realization that Homer's ideas were better after all.

One of the major problems here is that Gibson maintains a confused and confusing dynamic between an unambiguously mythological world and a world of shiny, contemporary reality. This scattershot mixing and matching of modern concept with ancient inspiration could've worked if it had been informed by a higher level of clarity and control. But the play's labored attempts at nudge-nudge humor, coupled with its eagerness to gratify audiences' superficial recognition of Homer's greatest hits, ensures that Current Nobody fails to achieve profound or gratifying moments unaided by our memories of the source material. Yes, the set is lovely, and the actors do just fine. But if you're a fan of The Odyssey, or even just a fan of bold new visions of very old works, Gibson's epic tomfoolery might just leave you in a foul mood.

 
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