Megan Cohen: Take Me Home: A One-Woman Odyssey
George Next Door, Space A, Venue 430, 9 George IV Bridge
August 2nd-23rd, 8:45-9:45pm
Review: Phoebe Walker
When I was at school and had to take RE lessons twice a week, a well-meaning neighbour gave me a copy of something called the ‘Street Bible’. Its target audience was the yoof, and it was exactly as terrible as it sounds – the apostles were prone to shouting ‘Whoah’, and ‘Absolutely!’ inexplicably replaced Amen. Since then, I’ve been a bit sceptical of translations of ancient texts that strive to be far too with it. I don’t want to hear a pimped-up Piers Plowman, or read a sonnet composed entirely of emoticons (such a translation, believe me, exists).
Just as well, then, that Megan Cohen’s one-woman interpretation of one of the oldest and best-known stories on the planet has helped me change my mind. Cohen relates the story of Odysseus after the bulk of his adventures are over, when he longs to return home, prefacing this with an explanation of the German word sehnsucht (“at the risk of sounding like a pretentious faux-multilingual asshat”). This feeling of “small yearning” for something that represents that slippery concept, ‘home’, forms the core of Cohen’s funny, erudite, and poignant performance. So: we hear the recap of Odysseus’ story pitched in contemporary San Franciscan idiom; Odysseus is super this and totally that, the suitors vying for Penelope’s hand are all “fratboy douchebags” and the goddess Athena intervenes to warn Odysseus to “check yourself before you wreck yourself”. It’s very, very funny and utterly engaging, the more so because Cohen isn’t just riffing lazily on the bard’s yarn for laughs – she really knows her stuff.
This is evidenced in perhaps the most compelling part of the performance, when she slips into a discussion of one strand of Odyssey scholarship, which considers the epic to have been penned by a woman. She mentions Samuel Butler’s argument, which cites the infinitesimal level of domestic detail, the emphasis on peacemaking, and the text’s strong female characters as proof that it was written by a young, intelligent, socially independent woman. What is most impressive is Cohen’s own spin on this: it would have been easy (and lazy) to make a few token feminist gags and move on, but Cohen uses this argument to accessibly and intelligently explore the entire gender-in/of-literature debate. Discussing the presumption that ‘Women’s Fiction’ always deals in strong female characters, for example, she argues that “it’s not about what you’re able to write, it’s about what occurs to you to write.” Her point here is so astutely and succinctly put, making this show about a good deal more than just the iteration of a classic.
Cohen is adept at switching gears in her performance. This thoughtful slice of gender criticism is sandwiched between a vigorous, Macarena-based attempt to summon her Muse (“invocation bitchesss!) and an audience game of charades. There’s a not-your-ordinary dick joke and a bunch of grapes that stands in for a conch shell. There’s a small, poignant, perfectly designed moment in which Cohen coaxes her audience, simply by lowering their hands, to tell her where ‘Home’ is for them. Through it all, she stands (mostly) majestically in a black floor-length gown, looking pretty much like the fabulous mermaid that could well have formed the prow of Odysseus’ ship. With Cohen as your tour guide, this is one trip you should definitely take.