Melanie Coleman
Scott Nolte, director of The Odyssey.

Taproot Theatre kicks off its 35th anniversary season with Greek classic

By Melanie Coleman, UW News Lab Student

Taproot Theatre is kicking off its 35th anniversary season with Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey, and the excitement among the cast and crew is palpable.

“Everybody is really into this and has really risen to the challenge of doing this, too, which is just great,” said Mark Chamberlin, who leads the cast as Odysseus. “That’s the best kind of company to be in.”

Beginning Feb. 2, audience members will journey through ancient Greek mythology as Odysseus struggles to return home, an adventure full of action, heartache and sorrow that lasts 20 years.

Opening their milestone season with this epic poem was no coincidence, according to Taproot Theatre co-founder and director of The Odyssey, Scott Nolte.

“For a theater to survive 35 years is a bit of an odyssey, as well as an amazing challenge,” he said. “This signals that we’re here, we’re serious. Odysseus’ journey includes a lot of peril, a lot of missteps and a lot of victory, and that’s just the life of any organization.”

This organization in particular has weathered its own share of hazards, overcoming multiple recessions and even arson in the past three and a half decades.

On the morning of Oct. 23, 2009, a fire was set to the theater’s neighboring building, also owned by Taproot. When the fire department arrived and realized that the fire was curling around and entering the attic of the theater, they acted quickly and drowned the building in water.

“If the roof had caught on fire, if the attic had caught on fire, then it would have been all over,” Nolte said.

Luckily the theater was covered with good insurance, he said, and the damaged building was repaired in just 96 days. During this time the community reached out through e-mails, phone calls and donations, offering their condolences.

“We really felt like we had a huge amount of support,” Nolte said.

Indeed, this play symbolizes the company’s refusal to cave to tragedy, just as Odysseus refused to stop his quest to get home to his beloved wife and child, even when the prospect of attaining this goal seemed gloomy.

On his long voyage home after battling in Troy, the war hero and his men are faced with countless obstacles.

“This group of guys that goes on this adventure and fights these battles -- minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day -- it is a battle to survive,” Chamberlin said.

Survival is often the only goal as Odysseus and his men take on the wrath of numerous Greek gods and goddesses.

Poseidon, god of the sea, is especially out for revenge after Odysseus blinds his son, Cyclops, during one of his attempts to get home. This leads the vengeful god to evoke many storms, causing multiple shipwrecks for the travelers.

After being washed ashore on an island after one such wreck, Odysseus is chained to the Goddess Calypso and serves as her lover for seven or eight years.

Circe is another goddess encountered by Odysseus, a witch who takes pleasure in turning men into swine. Odysseus must bargain yet another year of his life with the goddess in order for her to release his men from their pig state, returning them to humans.

“They’re a pretty capricious bunch, those Greek gods,” said Pam Nolte, who is Taproot’s co-founder and plays Odysseus’ faithful wife, Penelope.

While action and adventure are prevalent during the two-and-a-half hour production, Pam Nolte hopes viewers won’t lose what she feels is a central theme to the play -- the longing for what she described as “true home.”

“I’m hoping that the audience will remain connected to the personal story of Odysseus trying to get home to his wife after 20 years as well as the big adventure story,” Chamberlin said who will be portraying Odysseus, a character who embodies a fascinating mix of brawn and frailties.

The Odyssey runs from Feb.2 until March 5. For additional information on the Taproot Theatre or to purchase tickets, please call 206.781.9707 or visit www.taproottheatre.org.

(Melanie Coleman is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.)

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