"Odyssey" is coming to Michigan State University's Wharton Center this weekend. This new adaptation of Homer’s epic, "The Odyssey," modernizes the ancient tale of Odysseus’s return to Ithaca and tells the story of four migrant women, who recount the original story as they struggle to make their own journey home.
Writer and director Lisa Peterson said the original idea for the story originated around 2005, when she made an adaptation of the Iliad with her writing partner.
"It felt like the best way to talk about what it was like to be at war," Peterson said.
The idea then resurfaced for Peterson around 2017, when migrants were receiving much press coverage for making perilous journeys across the ocean. Peterson decided to center the story around four migrant women and began writing in the winter of 2020.
However, Peterson said adapting a classic like "The Odyssey" goes beyond just changing the setting and characters. For her, it’s about recreating every aspect of the story while still holding true to the original text's themes.
“You have to create the world in which the story is told as much as you have to do the story itself,” she said.
In this case, that meant making sure the themes and characters blended into a modern context, which Peterson said became hard at points.
“The trickiest thing is that in the structure of 'The Odyssey,' I think the thing that most people remember is the middle part,” Peterson said. "When he finally does get back home ... He decides to enact revenge, and it's really a massacre. It's very violent. And I think in the ancient Greek world, this idea of enacting revenge against someone who's dishonored you was probably less controversial than it is now."
Peterson said choosing whether or not to include that part was a struggle, but she eventually decided to keep it in because it can be representative of the world.
“The world is a dangerous place,” she said. “People do get deeply wounded, their pride gets hurt and massacres happen.”
However, that's not the only idea presented in the original text that remains relevant today; for Peterson, the core idea of "The Odyssey" is about “self-identity" and "how having a home or not having a home affect that.”
Throughout writing the adaptation, Peterson said, she found that home is not only defined as a place that one can return to, but also as a place one can go to in the future, as well as a third option defined by “the moment we're in now."
Peterson said the portrayal of these themes helped her view the original text less as an adventure story and more as a story about someone simply trying to get home.
She added that it pointed to another idea: migrants are the heroes of their own stories.
“Something has driven them to move away from their home, or else they wouldn't do it,” Peterson said. "The Gods can get in your way, there are monsters out there. So, it's not easy, but it's heroic, isn't it?”
"Odyssey" is showing on Oct. 28 and 29 and tickets can be purchased at www.whartoncenter.com
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