To Ithaca Revisited

A Review of To Ithaca

by Beverley Daurio

Writer/Director: Tatiana Jennings

Movement Coach:  Sharon Moore

Vocal Coach: Fides Krucker

THE CAST (in alphabetical order)

Jessica Bowmer—Cassandra

Ryan Breton—Telemachus

Julia Vande Burgt—Scylla

Andrew Cameron—Polyphemus

Olivia Croft—Circe

Brendan Chandler—Penelope

Jason Houle—Odysseus

Gabriella Kosmidis—Melanthoa (Milly)

Shea McCallum—Dawn/Athena

Matthew McMillan—Menelaus 

Allesha Narine—Charybdas

Kitty Orsten—Helen

Ella Plut—Andromache

Dimitrije Popovic—Antinous

Elliot Ritter—Eurymachus

William Warren—Melanthius

A Humber Theatre Presentation

Humber Studio Theatre

300 Birmingham Street

February 17-25 2017

To Ithaca is a re-telling of The Iliad, from the point of view of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, who weaves her tapestry every day and unravels it each night, while resisting suitors for her hand. In Tatiana Jennings’ re-imagining of the narrative, intricate threads subtly tie together this ancient story of Ithaca after the end of the Trojan war, and modern domestic life in 1940s wartime. This modernization never feels like pastiche—it enriches and deepens the sense of both our understanding of the original epic and recent contemporary life. The set—gated battlements high on both sides of the stage, a two-storey frame living space at centre, with a small, isolated but powerful room for Penelope and her son Telemachus—can be seen as a giant loom for the tapestry of the piece. At the same time, the different historical periods, tones and characters are clearly demarcated and set in counterpoint, giving the play the complexity of symphonic music.

The acting and ensemble work in To Ithaca are superb. I can’t emphasize enough the effectiveness of the short vignettes that thread together longer narratives throughout the play, whether the disintegrating love story between Circe (Olivia Croft) and Odysseus (Jason Houle), the caving marriage of Helen (Kitty Orsten) and Menelaus (Matthew McMillan), or the story of the spiraling-down treatment of the refugees Andromache (Ella Plut), with her small baby, and Cassandra (Jessica Bowmer), who is still shouting warnings, though Troy has fallen long before.

The actors are often paired in a way that allows both quick painting of character in dialogue with strong detail in microcosm, while simultaneously advancing the overall story of Odysseus’ return, and domestic life in his absence. Melanthoa (Milly, played by Gabriella Kosmidis) and Melanthius (William Warren) charm as the slightly mechant servants of Penelope, loyal to a point, but willing to seduce Telemachus for their own advantage; Scylla (Julia Vande Burgt) and Charybdas (Allesha Narine) are by turns funny, melancholic and menacing as two women of the town, punctuating ensemble scenes with memorable voicings, physical turns, singing and hilarious interpolated commentary. Antinous (Dimitrije Popovic) and Eurymachus (Elliot Ritter) encapsulate troublemaking men at home while soldiers are away at war—trying to seduce even the married women, acting as suitors to Penelope, and mercilessly teasing Telemachus, the overprotected heir. They are at the root of the mistreatment of the helpless refugees, and their portrayal is both human and haunting.

These pairings throw into relief those who are alone and isolated, including Polyphemus (Andrew Cameron), the wounded soldier/janitor at large who sees all; Penelope (Brendan Chandler), Telemachus (Ryan Breton), and Dawn/Athena (Shea McCallum), whose  role as outlook atop a ladder and as live foley artist adds a comic touch and a snippet of postmodern alienation—as well as a symbolic reminder that we, too, are looking over a vast time and space.

We watch, for example, as young Telemachus (Ryan Breton) comes of age without his father, dealing with his powerful mother, bullying, the machinations of Milly and Melanthius, and the sultry and worldly Circe, who introduces him to smoking and kisses; we are treated to the sweet desperation of Helen, whose legendary beauty and housewifely capacities cannot warm her relationship with Menelaus, as the actors explore their increasing separateness, delicately and emotionally. Odysseus, suffering from what seems like PTSD, cleaves fearfully to Circe, goddess, modern-day saloon-keeper and femme fatale; Cassandra has been rescued from Troy, and is now a terrified and manic refugee.

This trick of constant kinetic weaving—the visuals of actors moving up and down stairs to and from the battlements, into the basement/bomb shelter, up to the airy floor above, while Penelope weaves within her small room—is done impeccably and impressively. The actors move like forces of history through time, and smoothly, as if through their lives on stage. This is extremely challenging to bring off, and the company does it with fragility, brusqueness, flouncing, anger and with clear shapes; they carry out this cat’s cradle of complex physical rearrangement as if it were simple walking. Every part of the stage is used and populated, creating a sense of a large space and a city under a WWII aerial bombing siege.

There are sequences and moments of sheer brilliance. An electric passage during which Odysseus and Penelope suddenly seem to communicate across space and time, as long-married couples can, and speak and move in tandem with each other but without literal interaction, is painful, moving, and brutally honestly played by Chandler and Houle. Chandler’s soliloquy about the forces inside Penelope is powerful. The development of the xenophobia against the refugees, another thread woven into the piece, is deftly and darkly done. McMillan’s subtle, somber and enclosed portrayal of Menelaus’ understatedly being drawn into affection and help for the refugee mother and her child counterpoints the breaking out of violence against the refugees by the hard men and their supporters. Ryan Breton’s impressive transformation from boy to man, and Kitty Orsten’s touching yet crystalline Helen are all memorable.

The acting throughout To Ithaca shines, from the agile and entertaining Shea McCallum as radio star/outpost manager, to Brendan Chandler’s stunning, patrician, rigid but fragile Penelope. The characters are nuanced, human, touching, sometimes funny, and vulnerably and confidently drawn; their speech reaches us and is clear, unique, particular and meaningful. At no time does anyone just speak words—they are lived fully. Director Tatiana Jennings and Coaches Sharon Moore and Fides Krucker have evinced risk, attention to detail, and deep respect. The performances are what one would expect on the professional stage and screen from excellent, seasoned actors in challenging roles. I hope to see the work of these actors again soon.


(please also see Ted Fox’s review at