Telemachus’ mom has got it goin’ on. Maybe that doesn’t have the same ring as the 2003 Fountains of Wayne song, but the new play Crown of Shadows has a similar plot: A hormonal teenage boy hangs around by the pool after class, obsessing over the hot middle-aged woman who has the whole neighborhood talking.
As in the song, things are kinda complicated—but way bloodier. Being a teenage boy can suck, especially when your demigod father, Odysseus, leaves for war and never returns. Now Mom has to remarry or lose the kingdom, and her suitors are running around the house like half-dressed poolboys.
“He’s no divinity,” Telemachus says, moping by the onstage pool when yet another of his mother’s dates pays a 1 a.m. booty call.
“We’ve learned to do without that,” Penelope retorts, defending her latest boy toy.
“Asshole,” Telemachus says.
Crown of Shadows is based, of course, on Homer’s nearly 3,000-year-old Odyssey. Odysseus has gone off to conquer Troy with his giant horse statue and the rest, leaving his wife and son home alone for far too long. At its best, Jason Gray Platt’s script cleverly merges the mythical storyline with postmodern sass—until, like a storm-tossed ship circling Charybdis, it descends into madness (and melodrama, too). Crown of Shadows might have benefitted from another workshop; at the very least, this production could use a stronger, better-coached, and larger cast.
Jefferson A. Russell plays all the older male parts, including Penelope’s suitors, a sketchy bartender, and Telemachus’ swim coach. This causes not only confusion for the audience, but a painfully awkward moment in Act 2 when Russell must carry onstage the head of a slain character he played in Act 1.
As for the actors playing the meatier parts: As she showed in the Folger Theatre’s Hamlet in 2010, Deborah Hazlett can play a femme fatale of a certain age. She’s well-dressed here, but oddly unsexy, which seems incongruous. As Telemachus notes, Penelope puts out.
And it’s hard to see what Michael Morrow Hammack, as troubled Telemachus, sees in Calliope (Julia Proctor). The character may have been the muse with the golden voice, but Proctor comes off as shrill and one-pitch perky, as if she’s playing a teenage actress rather than a teenager. Which is a shame, because Calliope gets all the good lines. When Telemachus takes her to a carnival, she whines when all he wins is a tiny stuffed kangaroo. “Wasn’t your dad was really good at the discus throw?” she quips.
There’s a fun element of pop-culture commentary in Crown of Shadows: What’s it like to date a teenage celebrity? The paparazzi might tail you at the county fair, for starters. But Platt is more interested in driving the political machinations toward a violent, convoluted end. That includes tossing in a confusing subplot about Calliope’s missing mother that’s worthy of Law & Order SVU: Ithaca. By the time the pool is soupy with blood at the end of Act 2, it’s not just some characters who are dead. The play’s competing premises have canceled each other out.