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Author: Adam Goldstein

“Anon(ymous)” Fuses Ancient and Contemporary Themes in Retelling of “The Odyssey”

Millennia haven’t done much to dim the relevance of the “The Odyssey.” 

Homer’s ancient epic poem taps into timeless themes of wanderlust and woe. The story of a soldier waylaid for years on his journey home from battle is full of relatable questions about belonging, alienation and struggle. Playwright Naomi Iizuka’s 2006 drama Anon(ymous) draws directly from those questions, reframing the tale of Odysseus in a distinctly modern way.

Cecilia Pang, professor and associate chair of theater in CU’s Department of Theater & Dance, says Iizuka’s drama transforms the ancient text into a pressing treatise regarding the plight of modern refugees across the world. Pang is directing the department’s production of Anon(ymous) in the Loft Theatre from Feb. 16 to 25, and she sees relatable lessons for students and audience members alike.

“The play reimagines the character of Odysseus as a teenage refugee named Anon (short for “anonymous”), who has been separated from his mother, Nemasani (based on the character of Penelope, Odysseus’s wife), during their journey to the United States,” Pang said. “Anon spends the entirety of the play searching for his mother, who – unbeknownst to him – has been hired at a sweatshop run by the predatory Mr. Mackus (based on Penelope’s suitors in the original).”

As he searches for his mother and navigates a brutal, hostile new world, Anon runs into conflicts, characters and monsters with roots directly in Homer’s ancient text. The one-eyed Cyclops, the beguiling sirens, the devouring whirlpools and other perils from Odysseus’ journey find modern parallels in Iizuka’s reimagining, as do ancient narrative elements like the Chorus.

For Pang, the parallel structure points to timeless themes and enduring questions about home, family and perseverance. On another level, Anon(ymous) poses much more specific questions with roots in the modern world, an environment where individuals are forced to brave harsh conditions and hateful forces in a struggle for simple safety. One only has to look at current headlines about refugees to find the parallels. For Pang, it was easy to find significance in Iizuka’s work.

“I am a Chinese American immigrant born and raised in Hong Kong,” she said. “While I have never experienced war, persecution or political turbulence, I empathize with the journey of the refugees and admire their courage and tenacity to cross mountains and seas in search of a new and better home.”

For students, the production is a chance to learn about one of the most enduring narratives in human history, even as it’s an opportunity to participate in a contemporary, innovative piece of theater. With innovative staging and thoughtful sound design taking advantage of the immersive environment of the Loft Theater, this production of Anon(ymous) will fuse ancient undercurrents with modern, pressing questions.

“I want the audience to walk away with something they didn’t know about,” Pang said. “I want them to identify with the journey of these refugees.”

CU Boulder Department of Theatre & Dance presents “Anon(ymous)” in the Loft Theatre from Feb. 16-25, 2024.