By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Apr 04, 2015 at 12:37 PM

The words are so very much the words of today.

Improvised Explosive Device! Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!

How then can such words of the present be so critical to an almost 30 century-old story that is the second oldest work of literature in the Western World?

Leave it to Dale Gutzman and his puckish cohorts at Off The Wall Theatre to tie the two together in a spellbinding two hours, telling the story of a warrior trying desperately to return to the life he led before he became a hero.

"Odyssey," which opened this week, is the work of director Gutzman and John Angelos, a Milwaukee professor of literature. They’ve rewritten the poem, which runs between 400-500 pages, and it cuts like a steak knife into the heart of the story: the price paid by our warriors when we send them into battle.

Putting this on stage is a task worthy of Hercules, but Gutzman is up to it. Here’s how serious the play is.

At one point, a cyclops with one eye in the middle of his head, says to Odysseus, "I’m sorry I ate your friends." It sounds like a laugh line in almost any other play. But here, you could hear the audience gasp at the fright of those words.

The story is of Odysseus, the King of Ithaca, who has just finished off the 10-year battle of Troy. He and his men are returning to their home, but in their way are countless IEDs that make the travel a journey of dismaying peril.

There are monsters and storms, siren songs and a magical seductive nymph and a cave blocked by a huge boulder. The struggle is immense, and for Odysseus it is a life changing journey.

While he presses on, his wife Penelope waits at home, convinced her husband has died. She is pursued persistently by persuasive suitors who long for her hand and the kingdom. She resists, but finds her determination waning as she tires of the ongoing battle.

Odysseus finds strife within himself as he recovers from his war and faces the task of resuming a joyful life. The play is a definition of PTSD, as the warrior has been crowned a hero but carries the uncertain detritus of pain deep inside. That pain is equally as heroic as his acclaim.

"I’ll tell you all that I have endured, and you shall weep for me," he says, knowing that he really won’t share his experience. He will own it himself and will suffer for that ownership.

Odysseus returns to Ithaca a worn and beaten man, but draws a renewed sense of strength from seeing his son, now grown into a man, and his wife, still alone in their marriage bed after all these years and all the blandishment with which she has been showered.

In the end, he and his son vanquish the pretenders and the suitors, and he and Penelope join once again as the loving couple and benevolent king and queen of the land.

This production rests heavily on the shoulders of Odysseus and Penelope, and both Claudio Perrone Jr., and Jacqueline Roush are more than up to the task.

Perrone is a marvel to behold. He is a stunning physical figure, long black hair, sculpted body and eyes that penetrate through the darkest of nights. He has the rhythm and pace of the reluctant hero down cold. He lifts all those around him to heights they might not have otherwise expected.

Roush does duty as Penelope, the seductive magician Circe and a brief turn as Calypso, who holds Odysseus captive for eight years. She is an absolute beauty on stage with all the dignity and weariness a queen without a king might have. There is nothing about this Penelope that doesn’t ring true. She is regal and beaten at the same time, and you can see both her hope and despair rage in battle inside her.

It has long been my feeling that Gutzman and his little theater in the shadow of the magnificence of the Milwaukee Rep, creates some of the most compelling and creative theater in this town. He knows all of the tricks of his trade, and he has an unerring strand of risk taking.

But more than that, he knows how to tell a story. While the talent level of his casts may vary, as this one does, and while he may constantly struggle to keep his doors open, he constantly manages to surprise.

He is a prime example that, as Hamlet said, "The play’s the thing."

"Odyssey" runs through April 12 and information on showtimes and tickets is available here.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.