When home is a destination in your mind as much as a physical space, it's an arduous journey to overcome the obstacles that hinder your arrival. After fighting the Trojan War for 10 years, it took Odysseus another 10 years to reach his home in Ithaca. For Marine Capt. Elaine Edwards, returning home from her latest tour in Afghanistan, the forces keeping her at bay are her own haunted memories.
Ithaka, the new original work by Portland playwright Andrea Stolowitz, follows Lanie's trek through the Nevada desert and her own disturbingly populated subconscious. Though she arrived home to her husband more than a week ago, her real life no longer feels real. She's baffled by the people who smile through mundane activities such as shopping. "Was I ever that happy doing this bullshit?" she wonders.
Played with fierce authenticity by Dana Millican, Lanie blows up at her husband (Paul Angelo) and can't forgive herself for letting out the cat. Her often rapid-fire dialogue serves to mask the things she doesn't want to address. Millican embodies a woman both strong and broken, imbued with enough genuine emotion to avoid cliché.
Tackling the topic of war can be tricky ground, rife with potential for often-heard indictments or for sweeping patriotic grandeur. But Stolowitz has said she didn't set out to write a play about soldiers or even war in general; she wanted to write about friendship and what happens when those bonds are lost. Her stripped-down approach creates a more personal journey, holding true to the experience of returning veterans (Stolowitz interviewed more than 20), but still relatable to everyone else. What's left is a story about guilt, loss and finding a way back home.
Rather than wallow in the maudlin, the punchy dialogue and dark laughs push the show at a solid clip, and director Gemma Whelan's seamlessly nimble staging moves from car to roller coaster to hospital bed to battlefield effortlessly and with some impressive effects. But ultimately Ithaka is driven by its characters—by Lanie's grief, by her husband's frustration and, briefly, by the wisdom of a talking cat. Regardless of any experience with the military or the realities of war, it's not hard to sympathize with Lanie's pain as she undertakes her own odyssey toward home, peace and Ithaca.
SEE IT: Ithaka is at Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 241-1278. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Sundays, 2 pm Sundays through June 30. $25-$50.