Since when has the Odyssey had a zombie fight scene, watermelon iconography and a bathroom setting?
At a glance, Ailin Conant’s “Nobody’s Home” bears little resemblance to its attributed origin, possessing only a handful of scenes that immediately recognizable as a throwback to Homer’s epic. But if all one were looking to find from “Nobody’s Home” were a simple remake, the point of the show would be missed altogether.
Over the course of just over an hour, the London cast guides the audience through an emotional tale of one soldier’s story of reintegration. Will Pinchin, actor and co-writer of “Nobody’s Home,” plays the role of Grant, a soldier come home after having served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and who also — quickly made apparent — suffers symptoms from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Easily becoming lost in his own trauma-induced nightmares, the pitiable character Grant represents the many PTSD victims of the wars in the Middle East. Grant’s inability to readily discern reality from nightmares severely strains his relationship with his wife, Penny, played by co-writer Dorie Kinnear. Through the dynamic between Grant and Penny, the show makes it brutally and painfully clear that Grant’s journey home is far more than just a trip overseas.
“When we first began working, we were just looking to modernize ‘The Odyssey,’” director Ailin Conant said. “But the show was a little too abstract, and it wasn’t until we started to integrate veterans into our work that the show became as well-polished as it is.”
“Nobody’s Home” was the brainchild of Pinchin, Kinnear and Conant. They said contributions made by wartime veterans, who have worked alongside the troupe, give the show its hard-hitting edge. In workshops facilitated by veteran Erin Maxon, the trio sought help from local Santa Cruz community veterans in an effort to better represent the people the characters symbolized.
“We are telling a pertinent story that is not ours, and we are getting an immense amount of support in doing it,” Conant said.
The troupe was at first very hesitant to meet with the veterans because of the fear that the story would misrepresent it. For Will Pinchin, “Nobody’s Home” is meant to convey a sense of hope for those suffering from PTSD. The last thing Pinchin wanted to do was offend the very people whose collective stories the troupe tells, he said.
“Those whom this story belongs to have good reason not to want to share it with us,” actor Will Pinchin said. “The Odyssey is a safe story. It’s been told time and time again. The scary bit that’s never been addressed in a show is the traumatic part of the journey home, the PTSD bit.”
Veterans who come to see the show along its tour through San Luis Obispo, Calif. and Hamilton, NY will appreciate the cast’s dedication to attend to the
devil in the details. From corrected shifts in combat posture to proper about-face maneuvers, Pinchin has taken in as much as he can to better his performance on stage.
“There are certain things ingrained in the body of a soldier that, quite frankly, I don’t have,” Pinchin said. “The veterans have been invaluable in just correcting my behaviors that are second nature to them. The details may seem superficial, but the transformation one sees [as a result of] incorporating them makes them truly critical.”
From Grant’s distrust of his psychiatrist to Penny’s inability to emotionally connect with her husband, the show highlights the problems of PTSD. The lack of understanding on behalf of all parties puts Grant in a helpless position. And while the show very clearly and directly addresses the problems brought about by PTSD, its ending message is relatively ambiguous, although not absent of hope.
“In our last session with the veterans, we spoke directly about what we thought the answer should be, and how we could bring that into the show,” actor Dorie Kinnear said. “I want to say that it’s about working together to overcome this horrible condition. People who suffer from PTSD will likely have to deal with it for the rest of their lives, and the best solution I can think of, being Penny, is just being there for Grant.”
“Nobody’s Home,” as a modern Odyssey, does not end with the typical satisfaction of a triumphant hero returned home in Ithaca. There are no obvious suitors to be driven out, no divine interventions deus ex machina, but just the saddening realities of PTSD.
As Homer once said, “Zeus metes out fortune to good and bad men as it pleases him. Hardship he sent to you, and you must bear it.” By this token, the show comes into its own as a tragic and true story of confusion, loneliness and despair, but not without hope.