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A teenage boy with a mess of curly hair rode a unicycle in circles through a crowd of singing, moving people in the basement of the House of Charm Saturday afternoon.

It was chaotic, and supposed to be. The town of Ithaca, represented in this basement rehearsal room by San Diegans of many stripes, was singing about the loss of its king, Odysseus, who had yet to return from battle despite winning a war a decade earlier.

Lear deBessonet, the mastermind of the chaos, directing this new version of Homer’s “Odyssey” for The Old Globe, stepped into the crowd, pointing here and there and to the back like one of those cartoon characters whose gestures spin them into a tornado.

Only a few of the assembled crowd were professional actors. The rest had come to the afternoon rehearsal for the “Odyssey” production from all over the place: auditions at the Jackie Robinson YMCA, local high schools, dance troupes and a club for Globe supporters. (The crew has begun assembling the stories of the people involved.)

Near the front of the ensemble in a bold purple dress shirt and shorts, demonstrating a hearty amount of passion for his role, was Andre Carter, the financial planner we met at the potluck a couple of weeks ago. Carter fell into the play when he went to an audition at the Y instead of going to the meeting he’d planned. It appeared Saturday he’s eating up his decision.

“The unicycling is so fantastic,” deBessonet said to the teen amid the din. In the next breath she called over Penelope’s suitors, a motley five men wishing the queen would just get over her missing husband and choose one of them. It was the first rehearsal for the official crew joining head suitor, a park ranger named Kim Duclo, swelling the suitors’ ranks to include a policeman, a U.S. Marine, a biotech engineer and the captain of the volunteer ushers at The Old Globe.

DeBessonet had an idea. The suitors would add an element of comedic relief to this chaos and actually run through the ensemble, chasing Penelope, played by professional actor Shelley Thomas.

After running through the room herself to demonstrate, deBessonet called the room to attention.

Think of an event, she said, that brings a whole country together, like when President Kennedy was shot. Imagine what emotion would be on your face immediately after that. This is what the town of Ithaca is going through as they sing the song composer Todd Almond wrote. Its catchy refrain poses questions of devotion, like “How far would you sail to make it home?”

“Each person in this town is a specific person,” she said. Each person has a mother, a job, a set of things he or she cares about. Together, they make up a town of distinct personalities.

“I want to see a full town of people,” she said.

The rehearsal continued through a storm, a reflective moment while Penelope misses her husband, a realization that a large choir still needs to fit in the room.

“Isn’t it kind of hard to picture like 40 more people standing over here?” deBessonet said, laughing. This week, they’ll do more than picture it; the St. Stephen’s choir will join the rest of the ensemble on Friday. The production opens at the end of the month.

I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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