Greek mythology has provided profound inspiration for works of literature and theatre for centuries, bespeaking the timeless resonance of the ancient parables. Conceiver-director Ron Sossi and his venerable Koan Ensemble, the Odyssey's resident experimental troupe, adapt the ancient fable of Orpheus and Eurydice to consider various aspects of mortality and aging, including the fierce drive of humans to remain alive and their capacity for denying the inevitability of death. Combining the wisdom of the ages with eloquent yet sometimes disturbing ruminations on modern times, Sossi and company have fashioned an imaginative and aesthetically lovely piece awash with indelible imagery and cerebral depth.
The myth's basic plot -- Orpheus loses his wife, Eurydice, forever because he disobeys the rulers of the underworld by glancing back at her as he attempts to lead her back to earth -- serves as a springboard for Aaron Henne's script, derived from Koan's improvisational sessions. This freewheeling adaptation is a surreal reverie, set in a storage facility described in the playbill as "somewhere between now and a mythical time." In the dreamlike milieu, shifting time periods are ambiguous, Eurydice appears in three separate embodiments (Diana Cignoni, Marina Bakica, and Ochuwa Oghie), and Orpheus is depicted as both the young, grieving groom (Eric Losoya) and his elder counterpart (Alan Abelew), hoping to make his way back to Hades in a final attempt to bring Eurydice back. Among the many fascinating touches are zombie inhabitants of Hades pushing shopping carts around -- a striking parallel to modern urban ails -- and a chilling embalming scene.
The cast is brilliant throughout, exemplified in the finely nuanced work of Losoya and Abelew, each bringing sharp wit to his portrayal. Abelew masterfully illuminates the poignancy of the elder character's plight. Beth Hogan and Cary Thompson excel in multiple roles, and the three actors portraying Eurydice are likewise superb. The surreal ambiance is richly supported by Hans Pfleiderer and Julianne Elizabeth Eggold's set, Kathi O'Donohue's lighting, Kurt Thum's sound, Sossi's music selections, and Swinda Reichelt's costumes. Though this ambitious piece overreaches at times, and its bizarre dramaturgic conceits won't be to everyone's tastes, it's a viscerally stirring and memorable meditation on ever-important themes.
Presented by and at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. (Sun. 7 p.m. only Apr. 15 & 22, May 27, Jun. 17. Wed. 8 p.m. only May 9-30.) Apr. 14-Jun. 17. (310) 477-2055. www.odysseytheatre.com.