The audience sat captivated and intrigued by the intimate surroundings as eight actors dressed in simple clothing filed uniformly into the black box theater for Episcopal High School's production of "Telemachus Clay." The actors took their seats in eight chairs, which served as their only set and props throughout the show. The lights went out and darkness enveloped the room. Suddenly, a small red light appeared and the journey of Telemachus Clay began.
"Telemachus Clay" is a modern retelling of the life of Odysseus's son, Telemachus, in the Greek classic "The Odyssey." It tells the story of a young man who grows up without a father and searches to find meaning and purpose in his life. Prompted by his desire to leave the small town in which he was born, Telemachus (Bobby Arnot) travels to Hollywood to become a scriptwriter, leaving behind his pregnant girlfriend (Mari Casey). But Telemachus soon discovers that it's not as easy as he thought it would be to make it in the world.
While this show never made it to Broadway, it received a Drama Desk Award for best screenwriter and a Theatre World Award for best off-Broadway debut. The play deals with mature themes such as sex, drugs, alcohol and childbirth. What was unusual about Episcopal's performance was that the actors accurately portrayed these subjects without leaving their seats or facing one another. The versatility of the actors made the show interesting to watch. Each actor played a variety of roles, ranging from barnyard animals to prostitutes to movie producers. Spotlights were used to introduce characters and to convey the interactions between different actors. The stage directions were left entirely to the audience's imagination.
While the entire cast was talented, Ina Dixon, Will Canine and Mari Casey brought energy to the show, as they effortlessly transformed themselves into so many dynamic and enchanting characters, ranging from the comic to the depressing. The technical crew kept busy with lighting and sound cues. Because the dance of the spotlights was so fluid and graceful, it was hard to tell whether the actors were cueing the lights or if the lights were cueing the actors. Lights were used to convey the various emotions Telemachus was experiencing. A harsh light from above the stage illuminated Telemachus going through an unforgiving self-examination process, and softer, more flattering lights revealed Telemachus finally coming to terms with who he is.
Episcopal High School deserved the applause it received for taking on this exceptionally challenging play.
Thomas A. Edison High School
Can eight actors sustain a full-length play without any props or set, using only one real costume? What if they are never allowed to look at each other and have to remain seated the entire performance?
The answer, according to Episcopal High School's production of "Telemachus Clay," is yes. The classic story tells the tale of a small-town boy who leaves home to make a name for himself in the city but ultimately realizes that city life isn't all it's cracked up to be and that fame isn't quite so easy to grab.
"Telemachus" gets a modern twist in the staging of this tale. The eight actors portrayed a variety of characters without ever leaving their seats or physically interacting with one another. The actors maintained enough energy and emotional connection to keep the play interesting, despite the lack of interaction. They remained focused and were able to shift among a wide range of characters, each with very different personalities.
The two leads, Bobby Arnot as Telemachus and Henrik DeZwart as the Prophet, were the only two performers who each played single characters. Arnot made clear the conflicting and complex emotions facing Telemachus with a deep understanding of his character's troubles. DeZwart exploded with energy and creativity when the Prophet became "the Prophetman," an old beatnik who dished out both nonsense and advice with the same groovy rhythm. The ensemble did more than support these roles -- they illuminated them with life, energy and talent.
The sound and lighting crews cued the audience to each new setting. No cues were missed; every character was illuminated in the exact time and sequence required.
Can high school students handle a play that is this difficult, both emotionally and technically? As the Prophetman would say, "Yes, oh yeah, Babyman."
Wakefield High School