Amy Lane calls Homer's ancient Greek poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” the beginning of storytelling in Western civilization.
So Lane was intrigued when she ran across a contemporary comedy, “Sirens,” that uses “The Odyssey” as a metaphor for modern marriage.
“Sirens,” by Deborah Zoe Laufer, opens the Omaha Community Playhouse's new season Friday in the smaller Howard Drew Theatre. Lane is directing.
The play centers on Sam, a songwriter whose one hit 25 years ago is still heard everywhere — elevator music, phone ringtones, cover tunes. He's been searching for that second massive hit ever since.
That's part of the reason his marriage has lost its spark. When Sam and his wife, Rose, take a 25th anniversary Greek island cruise, he hears that long lost next hit — and jumps overboard to follow the sound, finding a beautiful siren on a nearby island. It's a long journey to discover that what he's missing is back home.
“Sirens” likens marriage to Odysseus' epic decades-long journey, Lane said. The temptations (old flames, younger love interests), distractions (obsession with finding a hit) and Sam's midlife crisis are not so different from the monsters Odysseus had to conquer, she said.
Laufer has found modern equivalents to ancient pitfalls. For example, the lotus eaters in “The Odyssey” eat a special fruit that makes them so lethargic they never want to leave. It's like what Internet addiction can do to someone today, Lane said.
The play's siren is straight out of Greek mythology, she said. The siren refers to ancient Greek gods such as Zeus and his daughter Persephone. Yet she's hooked on a video game that washed ashore with one of her victims.
“You don't have to know 'The Odyssey' to appreciate this story,” Lane said. Audiences will have no trouble relating to the spark going out of a marriage or the wife who gets left behind.
Lane said Rose is a stand-in for Penelope from “The Odyssey.” She had hundreds of suitors who assumed her husband, Odysseus, must be dead he was gone so long. Penelope tricks the persistent suitors by saying she'll marry when finished weaving her husband's burial shroud. Every day she weaves. Every night she unravels her work, and the wedding day never arrives.
In “Sirens,” Rose knits as she waits for Sam and is pursued by a younger man.
Christine Donaghy, a first-time scenic designer for the Playhouse, further emphasizes the Greek theme with stepped platforms shaped as islands.
Lane saw “Sirens” at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky. She was already a fan of Laufer, having chosen her play “End Days” for the Playhouse's 21 & Over series of adult staged readings.
“Laufer is so smart,” Lane said. “She writes really funny, uplifting comedies, which are hard to find.” There's a bit of profanity, Lane said, but not on the level of last year's season opener, “August: Osage County.”
Since the Playhouse's first musical this season, “Les Misérables” (opens Sept. 19), is quite dark, as are other plays chosen for the small theater, a light comedy like “Sirens” balances the heavier themes, Lane said.