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Theater Review: Trinity's 'black odyssey,' An Exciting, Influential Epic

At Trinity Rep these nights the theater is presenting “black odyssey,” a work racing from the days of “The Odyssey” to our time. It’s a huge undertaking and The Public’s Radio reviewer, Bill Gale, says it has magic enough, even if the musical play is just a little long.

It’s a huge undertaking and The Public’s Radio reviewer, Bill Gale, says it has magic often enough even if the musical play is, just a little long.

“black odyssey” is clearly one of the most exciting, most influential work of art ever played during the decades of Trinity Rep’s often hard-charging years.

Written by Marcus Gardley, a fast rising name in the theater, it is no less than an attempt to look at the history of America’s black population by going back to the days of “The Odyssey.” Then it’s right of to the rough-edged life of a black American male trying to make his mark.

The saga careens through centuries always looking at the center of the life of Ulysses Lincoln, a Gulf War trooper, who’s filled with needs and desires. He’s always hoping for redemption, often not finding it.

All of this is set on a cranky, goofy and always interesting, sometimes fun stage that runs from great, ancient columns down to a dozen or so television sets that frequently are programming great, and no-so-great, subjects of the times.

On this setting romps a group of black Americans telling a story from early worlds up through today. “black odyssey” is filled with music wonderfully sung with vigor and care by the entire cast. There’s rarely a slow moment.

So, what’s to complain about then? Well, this work, aimed at glory and knowledge of past centuries, is just a bit too much of a good thing. You can take any section of the work and know it’s interesting and significant And well played by an ever-driving cast.

But, at times, the play is going on too long. It’s as if author Gardley has just needed to get everything in, all the way. Some shortening, some sharping, would make this play even better than it is.

Yet, there’s nothing but praise for the cast. Trinity’s Joe Wilson, Jr. is remarkable as a young-ish man trying to find his way in the world. He charges from ancient days to being on a rickety board lost in the middle of a mighty ocean; a wonderful performance.

Wilson is also credited with being the co-director along with Jude Sandy, who is also an actor doing very well here.

Indeed, the entire cast of “black odyssey” is first rate. The play has much to say and says it well. It’s an important piece. True, it could be a little sharper and shorter. But it is also a play that falls into the linage of Trinity Rep as a theater that, over the years, has taken big chances, and had big results.

Now let’s take a different road. The Museum of Fine arts in Boston is currently holding a magnificent exhibition of the work of photographer Ansel Adams. There are 100 photos of the master’s greatest work of American national parks mostly centering on Yosemite.

Snowy peaks, sunsets, and wonderfully captured storms clouds, are captivating and mind bending at once. I hated to leave it the other day. It is America at its best. Don’t miss it.

"black odyssey" runs through February 3rd at Trinity Rep.

Joe Wilson, Jr. as Ulysses and Cloteal L. Horne as Circe in 'black odyssey.'
Joe Wilson, Jr. as Ulysses and Cloteal L. Horne as Circe in 'black odyssey.'