A 40 Year Long Odyssey. (The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble)
"You can die or you can
live. I try to run the theater in a way that opts for the latter." Says
Ron Sossi, the founder of The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. And yes, they’re
both alive, Sossi and The Odyssey that was founded in 1969 when Ron Sossi
decided to demonstrate that experiment-oriented theatre could have populist
appeal and also fiscally solvent, while maintaining the highest artistic
standards. Odyssey turns 40 this year and, although there are older theater
companies in L.A., the only other one that has been led by one individual
through as many decades of productions is the bigger and wealthier Mark
Taper Forum, run by Gordon Davidson.
At the very beginning wildly successful and innovative productions such as The Serpent and Brecht's Threepenny Opera immediately gained the Odyssey its reputation for producing dangerous, magical, and experimental work. Originally located in a Hollywood storefront, in 1973 the Odyssey moved to a larger venue in West Los Angeles where, beginning with one 99-seat theater, it gradually expanded to a three-theater complex.
The 1979 season resulted in a record-breaking 15-month run of the Odyssey-created Chicago Conspiracy Trial, the first production in Odyssey 2, the theatre's second space. (This play, written by Ron Sossi and Frank Condon, was translated to the screen as an HBO Special Presentation in May, 1987, which itself won the Cable Industry's ACE Award.) 1980 saw the addition of a third space, Odyssey 3, in which the highly acclaimed Traces (a powerful collaboration with Vietnam veterans) began its successful production history, eventually playing to audiences at Joseph Papp's Public Theatre, the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, and the Royal Court Theatre in London.
In 1982, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle's most prestigious honor, the Margaret Harford Award, was presented to Ron Sossi and the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble for "demonstrating a continual willingness to experiment provocatively in the process of theatre." The following year saw multiple awards for the theatre's productions.
In 1984, the Odyssey was selected to participate in the Olympic Arts Festival. Its production of David Mamet's Edmond was recognized by two German television networks, the British press, and East Coast theatre periodicals as being "the best of the American entries." In 1985, the Odyssey's unique production of Garry Trudeau's and Elizabeth Swados' Rap Master Ronnie moved to a commercial run in a larger facility and saw subsequent productions in major US cities. The final 1986 season production, the world premiere of Steven Berkoff's Kvetch, opened Off Broadway in 1987, while continuing to play to sold-out houses at the Odyssey where it ran for 8 years. Successes in the 1988 season included the theatre's multiple-award-winning production of Master Class by David Pownall and Three Top Hats by the Spanish playwright Miguel Mihura. This latter play was the first production of LAAFO (Latin Actors and A Few Others), an ensemble established at the Odyssey to make the wealth of Hispanic theatre, old and new, accessible to English-speaking audiences.
Due to the sale of the building on Ohio in July, 1989, the OTE family--made up of staff, board members, volunteers, actors, and friends--spent many months converting a city-owned vacant warehouse into a three-theatre complex. Faith Healer, the first production in the new facility, opened in September, 1989. The 1990 world premiere Struggling Truths and the compelling hit TEA in 1991 examined Eastern concerns, while Arthur Kopit's irreverent The Road to Nirvana, also in '91, slaughtered Hollywood's sacred cows.
Recent successes such as David Hare's A Map Of The World , Euripides' The Bacchae , Suzan Lori-Park's Imperceptible Mutabilities In The Third Kingdom, and the cabaret Frauleins In Underwear are evidence of the Odyssey's cultural eclecticism. The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble is currently planning expansion into a major International Experimental Theatre Center. In the meantime, they explore, produce and present works on the forefront of contemporary theatre art.
Two currently on-stage productions of OTE are, again, very promising.
Bach at Liepzig, running through August 23rd, is based on actual events in 1722. Playwright Itamar Moses takes us on a hilarious wild ride as seven rival musicians compete to fill the most sought after musical post in Europe, organ master at Leipzig. A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's costumes reportedly made from scratch for this production, along with period shoes, and wigs, are sumptuous. Kurt Boetcher provides sound gags and bone-rattling organ music.
Heavy like the Weight of a Flame is a solo artist/comedian/gifted guitarist R. Ernie Silva's true-life tale of his odyssey across the great American outback as he leaves the ghettos of Brooklyn and learns to call the road home. Written by James Gabriel & R. Ernie Silva and directed by Mary Joan Negro. Running through July 25th.
Look up the upcoming productions @ http://www.odysseytheatre.com/