In Long Way Home, the theater group Q Brothers Collective creates a contemporary mix on Homer’s epic the Odyssey: instead of hypermasculine white men slaying mythical creatures or stirring grandiose battles, five black actors spin Homer as hip-hop verse.
The play follows MC Odysseus (aka “Ody”), a young black woman, and her clan on their journey home from the Rogers Park Jarvis stop to the mythical southwest neighborhood of Ithaca. Along the way, the crew travels on a magical el train that weaves throughout Chicago neighborhoods, highlighting the city’s diverse musical communities, from house to punk.
The adaptation portrays the heroine’s quest to get home as part of a larger theme of personal exploration. “Obviously hubris is a huge theme of the Odyssey, and that meshes well with the world of hip-hop,” says JQ, Q Brothers’s creative and musical director. “[The characters] each have to overcome their vulnerabilities by the end of the piece to realize just how full and rich they’ve become on their journey.”
Q Brothers is known for modern adaptations of classic literature, including Shakespeare’s Othello and Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The play is the first collaboration between the theater company and the Chicago Children’s Choir, a non-profit organization that focuses on music education for Chicago youth through choral programs. In Long Way Home, members of the choir both play lead roles and sing supporting vocals.
Long Way Home is a landmark for both companies: It will be the choir’s first theatrical performance since 2012, mixing acting with vocal performance. It will also be the largest cast Q Brothers has ever worked with; they typically use micro-casts ranging from five to fifteen actors, many performing multiple parts.
“[The Chicago Children’s Choir] is more powerful than we ever could have imagined,” says Jackson Doran, director of education at Q Brothers. Without prior acting experience, the group was able to learn 15 original songs and new choreography, which, Doran says, is “jaw-to-the-floor incredible.”
Long Way Home Fri 3/9, 7:30 PM; Sat 3/10, 3 and 7 PM; Sun 3/11, 2 and 6 PM, Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan, 312-753-3210, ccchoir.org, $20-$40.