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Uptown Play Features 'Feminist Epic Journey' Through Post-Apocalyptic NYC

 UP Theater Company will present its new play, Epic Poetry, beginning April 29th.
UP Theater Company will present its new play, Epic Poetry, beginning April 29th.
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Mary Ann Wincorkowski

HUDSON HEIGHTS — Crossing the George Washington Bridge, taking the A train to 42nd Street and visiting a souvlaki shop in Astoria may sound like routine trips in the life of a New Yorker, but in the hands of one Uptown theater company, it's the stuff of Homeric legend.

The Northern Manhattan-based UP Theater Company will stage its latest production "Epic Poetry," which follows the classic hero's journey model of "The Odyssey," but with some important differences.

The play, which was written by Washington Heights resident James Bosley, is set in post-apocalyptic New York City and the hero is a teenage girl.

“It’s kind of a feminist epic journey,” said Bosley, who is also UP’s artistic director. “Suddenly a girl is emerging as an epic hero, which in ancient days was just not done.”

The play follows Lief, a 15-year-old who journeys from Ithaca to New York City in search of her father, a legendary war hero who has been missing for years. Along the way, Lief encounters several characters from Greek epic poems and mythology including Calliope, the muse of epic poetry; Circe, the goddess of magic; and Pluto, the ruler of the underworld.

Connie Castanzo plays the precocious Lief.

“She is an adventurous spirit,” Castanzo said of the character. “She’s a bit of a risk-taker, brave, curious, and also very loyal.”

Lief, who is trying to reunite her family, faces many challenges along her journey, including navigating a treacherous version of New York City. 

“The air is poisoned; tycoons rule the kingdom; villains are everywhere,” Bosley explained of the dystopian setting.

Director Gregory Wolfe, who has his own Shakespearean theater company, Moonwork, wanted to ensure the play had a timeless feel.

“The idea is that it could have happened 3,000 years ago, 1,000 years ago or sometime in the future,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe, who incorporated traditional elements of Greek theater, such as the chorus, into the 11-person performance said the play is an interesting mashup of the ancient and modern.

“I would say it's sort of 'Sons of Anarchy' meets 'Jason and the Argonauts,'” he explained. “It’s very traditional Greek, and then the first lines of the play are “shut the f--- up.”

Calliope, disguised in the play as a grandmother, sees in Lief the potential to revive and maybe even improve upon the lost art form of epic poetry by channeling the story through a female character who may bring different strengths and flaws to the table.

Bosley said he also wanted to introduce the idea that family could be part of an epic tale.

“Lief has to go out and teach others that there are different kinds of adventures,” he explained.

That lesson reflected Bosley's own experience, he said.

“I wrote this play when I was first getting married and settling down,” he said. “I had kind of a wild youth and lived the life of a roving adventurer. I wanted to show that it’s also an adventure starting a family. It just happens more slowly.”

"Epic Poetry" opens April 29 and runs through May 16 at the Social Hall of the Hebrew Tabernacle at 551 Fort Washington Ave. Tickets are $18, with $12 tickets available for seniors and students.