Review: THE VORTEX ODYSSEY is Imperfect but Impactful

THE VORTEX ODYSSEY is a theatrical experience that struggles to meet its ambitious scope, but is nonetheless unique and memorable.

By: Oct. 02, 2020
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Review: THE VORTEX ODYSSEY is Imperfect but Impactful

With traditional theatre performances cancelled indefinitely as covid-19 continues to ravage the world, companies must think differently about bringing performances to their audiences. The Vortex Theatre has always been a home for audacious and groundbreaking theatrical experiences. Through THE VORTEX ODYSSEY, they've created a flawed but utterly unique reimagining of the journey of Odysseus.

The creative team behind THE VORTEX ODYSSEY plunks Homer's ancient epic down in the terrifyingly and inescapable modern times we're all currently surviving. They've created a highly ambitious performance installation quest where audience members stay in their cars and drive throughout the neighborhood to each location. Make no mistake, this is not a relaxing theatrical experience. You're driving, navigating, watching, and dealing with technology that is no doubt an insomnia-inducing, logistical headache for the organizers. Side note: it's best to have someone navigating in your passenger seat so you don't miss the left turn into the Underworld or the six blocks to the seductive Sirens.

To keep everyone safe, all car windows stay up as sound is played through a phone app downloaded ahead of time. This doesn't always work as smoothly as hoped, so I found my focus taken off of the performers as I cursed my app for not working and tried to get the sound to play. Not surprisingly, this launches you right out of the theatrical experience and prevents full immersion into the world.

There may be obstacles getting to each location along the journey, but when everything works, it's riveting. The performances, production design, songs, and costumes display the work of massively talented designers, directors, and performers who've worked tirelessly to make THE VORTEX ODYSSEY an immersive experience. Each costume is expertly constructed with gritty opulence; reflecting the derelict, graffiti covered walls of the environment. Ingenious creativity and craftsmanship shine through in the materials, scale, and details of the costumes, complete with a stylized mask. The costume design is by Pam Fletcher Friday, Aaron Flynn, Coco Lectric, Aaron Kubacak, and Jessi Rose with mask design by Melissa Vogt, Jennifer Davis, Connor Hopkins, Ann Marie Gordon, and Jelena Stojiljkovic Rhines.

Review: THE VORTEX ODYSSEY is Imperfect but Impactful From the magical, twinkling island of Calypso to the Cyclops' Terminator-inspired body armor, each character has their own look, voice, and space to express their warnings and messages. One location asks each car to flick on its high-beams to illuminate the single performer in the center. What follows is an extraordinary performance piece decrying racism with an unforgettable declaration at the end. Audience members were visibly moved as they were directed to the next location.

The Odyssey is an epic that's endured endless retellings. This reinterpretation by The Vortex Theatre for the current times is an undeniably inimitable experience that, at times, falls short of the ambition it strives for. When not focused on the frustrating technological problems, appreciating the craftsmanship and electric, politically charged journey is ultimately rewarding.

Pictured: Allegra Jade Fox as Athena

Errich Petersen Photography

THE VORTEX ODYSSEY's drive-thru performance installations are creative collaborations from small artistic teams of professional writers, composers, directors, designers, choreographers, performers, and stage managers. THE VORTEX ODYSSEY currently has more than 60 artistic collaborators, featuring the work of many BIPOC performers, writers, designers, and directors. (

THE VORTEX ODYSSEY is conceived and directed by Bonnie Cullum with Directors Teresa Cruz, Laura J. Khalil, Clarissa Smith, Jeremy Rashad Brown, Karen Jambon, Andreá Smith, Will Douglas, and Jennifer Jennings.


OCTOBER 1-3 AND 8-10, 2020

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