The Penelopiad, written by Margaret Atwood and directed by Sarah Meister, premiers this weekend at the Little Nourse Theater, with shows Friday and Satuday night at 8PM.
The Penelopiad, a modern reinterpretation of The Odyssey from the viewpoint of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, features an all-star all female cast. Each role is tossed from actress to actress through colored sashes, allowing each player a moment of Penelope.
While this unconditional sharing of roles disrupts the traditional manner in which a player grows into her character, it provides an every-woman quality to Penelope. Indeed, set in the “gloomy halls of Hades,” (an accurate description of Little Nourse) the cast is but a sip of forgetful waters away from reentering our world, still so cruel, even now.
This bond of myth and present, clearing the clouds of the former, undergirds the entire script. The wives and maids of classic myth, once painted with sparse strokes, often violent, are given life, soulfulness, and – most presentably – a voice in The Penelopiad. And though Atwood’s reimagining, originally a novel, is less rigorous than other similar such works – Jane Smiley’s masterpiece A Thousand Acres, for example – it constitutes an ambitious Little Nourse production that Meister and the cast pull off.
Music synthesized sorrow and joy, leaving audience members humming diddy/dirges as they cleared from the surprisingly crowded opening night theater. Cast members, after passing along the sash, melded into a sort of fluid chorus, playing sometimes the maids, sometimes the suitors, always again some timeless archetypical group. Actresses sang in expertly executed rounds and formed into ships or seas whenever so called, forming the otherwise absent set. Though “The Penelopiad” boasts myriad strengths, cast synergy is the essence of most of them.
Audience members beware – it is a first wave plot. Those interested in added dimension might look to how Penelope interacts with her maid. The only noticeable weaknesses in the production were occasionally flat, indicative assumptions of a role whose sash was quickly tossed. That said, this method of role distribution is vulnerable to that flaw.
The brighter and more notice- able side was that each actress brought some radically different angle to Penelope – for example, Ingrid Hofeldt ’17 liveliness and Liv Phillips ’18 earnesty – leaving us with an eight dimensional character the sort of which could not be illuminated by one author on paper nor through any visual art short of cubist abstraction.
“The Penelopiad” is a hidden treasure at the end the ETB season, making this weekend of “Hair” and “Cujokra” a promising one for the theatre.