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Everything olde is new again
With 'Epic,' actress and playwright Eve Butler becomes a re-teller of tales
Eve Butler's "Epic" is a freely-adapted amalgam of three classic stories

From the halls of Scandinavia, Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece, Eve Butler’s epic tale began.

For many days and nights, she read and ruminated upon the great adventure stories of old – Beowulf, The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey – and dreamed of a way to not only unite them, somehow, but to bring them – so enjoined – into the 21st Century.

Many scorched late–night candles, frustrated script revisions and bottomless cups of coffee later, Epic was born.

And so it shall be thus, Jan. 13–15 at Muse Arts Warehouse.

Epic is a one–woman show in three acts, written by and starring the former Savannah resident. It is, Butler says, similar (in theory) to the 1999 film Ten Things I Hate About You, in which Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew was co–opted and adapted into something almost entirely new.

“I was reading James Joyce’s Ulysses – he takes the plot of The Odyssey and uses it to tell the story of this ordinary Dublin businessman on one day of his life,” says the 23–year old. “So it’s telling The Odyssey, but it’s not telling The Odyssey. And I thought well, if Joyce can do it, I can do it.”

Perhaps because she’s an English teacher at Coastal Carolina Community College, in Jacksonville, N.C., Butler is intimately familiar with the classical adventure epics.

For those raised on Saturday Night Live parodies, the Peter Jackson version of The Lord of the Rings or (you know who you are) stuff like Twilight or True Blood, here’s a crib sheet on Butler’s dramatic source material:

Beowulf is an Old English epic poem about a monster called Grendel who’s developed an appetite for Norse soldiers (believed to have been written in the 10th century or thereabouts, the story is set in Scandinavia). The heroic Beowulf slays Grendel, and the monster’s mother (she dwells beneath a frigid lake), and, years later, a treasure–hoarding dragon.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an even older story, originating in Mesopotamia, concerning the King of Uruk and his brother Enkidu, who battle an assortment of monsters thrown at them by the angry gods.

The Odyssey is the ancient Greek epic poem by Homer, describing the 10–year journey of the hero Odysseus as he attempts to get home in the aftermath of the Trojan War.

For seven of those years, he was held captive on an island by the nymph Calypso.

“I basically stole the plots of the epics, the overall framework, but it’s telling a modern story,” Butler explains. “Actually, there’s a fantasy element. It’s not an extremely literal re–telling of these stories. I wrote a new story and made them tie in.”

Onstage, she explains, she plays a different character – a storyteller – in each act.

“I took the story of Beowulf and used it as a metaphor to tell this new story, which is about a high school girl in Savannah, Georgia, who fights her best friend’s abusive ex–boyfriend. And then a drug dealer.”

In Butler’s narrative, the character is named Bea Woolfe.

“My sister read it and said ‘I love it. What happens next?’ So I thought, OK, I’ll make a sequel and make one of the minor characters the hero in the next one. So I have her be Gilgamesh, and I take the plot of The Epic of Gilgamesh, more or less, and use it as a blueprint to tell the story of what happens next.”

In the third act, Butler plays – you guessed it – a woman called Odessa.

“I used the plots for the blueprints, but the tone is not like the ancient epics at all,” she stresses. “I would describe it much more as a modern fantasy story, with magic and trans–dimensional beings, things like that.”

Epic is directed by Butler’s husband, Eric S. Kildow; the playwright’s sister Violet will accentuate the show with spoken word performances.

Butler, who grew up in Savannah, wrote and performed several one–woman shows while at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“There is a lot of advantage to a one–woman show in that it’s portable,” she laughs. “Honestly, what attracted me to the format is that I could just take it, by myself, and go anywhere I wanted and do it.

“In terms of logistics, I only have to buy one bus ticket.”

Eve Butler: Epic

Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Road

When: At 8 p.m. Jan. 13–15

Admission: $5