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Orinda: Cal Shakes’ Black Odyssey, Premieres

Cal Shakes’ newest production turns Homer’s epic into a soulful journey through the African American experience.


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Jennifer M. Koskinen // A scene from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ production of black odyssey.

Greek gods, an epic journey, and Motown? That’s what you can expect from Cal Shakes’ black odyssey, which makes its West Coast premiere this month.

Jennifer M. Koskinen // A scene from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ production of black odyssey.

Written by Oakland native Marcus Gardley and directed by Cal Shakes Artistic Director Eric Ting, the play offers a unique twist on Homer’s The Odyssey, transforming the classic epic into a radical mash-up of African American history and folklore.

The Odyssey has always fascinated me because it is a story about home and self-determination—two ideas that are central to African American life and history,” says Gardley, who set the story in Oakland. “I wanted to write a play that depicted the complexities and utter brilliance of American blackness. It’s a love song to the ancestors.”

Music plays a large role in telling the story of Ulysses Lincoln, a Gulf War veteran struggling to return home to his family. With an infectious score that includes everything from West African folk songs and spirituals to jazz and hip-hop, the music spans “the arc of the African American experience,” says Ting.

And while you’re sure to enjoy the beats, Ting wants audiences to come away with a deeper understanding of those around us. “I hope [audiences] walk away emboldened to reach out to people that they wouldn’t otherwise.”

August 9–September 3, calshakes.org.

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