Nightwood Theatre conquers the stage again with a beautiful remount of Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad
A Nightwood Theatre Production
Written by Margaret Atwood
Directed by Kelly Thornton
As the old Proverb states, “There are two sides to every coin." One of the most famous ancient Greek poems, Homer's The Odyssey, is well known for its hero Odysseus, who spends 20 years away from his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus, fighting in the Trojan War. Penelope is faithful and patient as she waits for her husband to return, typical characteristics of women in mythology. But who was Penelope, and what happened while her husband was away for all of those years? The voicelessness of her character is a theme explored in Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad, a novella adapted for the stage that tells The Odyssey from Penelope's perspective.
Now playing for a return engagement at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Nightwood Theatre's award-winning production of The Penelopiad stars Megan Follows as the title character, accompanied by a powerhouse all-female ensemble, including Maev Beaty and Cara Gee. Clad in a white Greek gown, Penelope takes the audience on a journey through time as she explains her childhood as the daughter of Icarius, the King of Sparta (Audrey Dwyer), and Periboea (Fiona Byrne), a water nymph, or Naiad. Following a contest, she marries Odysseus, the King of Ithaca (Kelli Fox), and settles in Ithaca with his family, where she eventually gives birth to a son, Telemachus (Neema Bickersteth). Soon after the birth of his son, Odysseus leaves his family behind to fight in the Trojan War, which breaks out, much to Penelope's fury, due to the beauty of her cousin, Helen of Troy (Pamela Sinha).
What transpires during Odysseus' absence is what truly makes The Penelopiad a triumphant tale. Follows speaks to the audience as though they were old friends, noting her loneliness in Ithaca with the kind but often patronizing Eurycleia (Patricia Hamilton), Odysseus' childhood nurse and current maid of the household. Penelope is also surrounded by her own 12 maids who keep her company and help fend off the suitors who surround the palace. Penelope leads the suitors on, keeping their hopes alive that she may choose one of them to marry, as they all believe that Odysseus will not return. However, in the end it is Penelope's maids that bear the brunt of the suitors' frustrations. These scenes are dark and often disturbing, with music by Suba Sankaran and lighting by Kimberley Purtell creating a chilling atmosphere throughout. What ensues is deeply haunting, both for Penelope and for the audience.
Designed by Denyse Karn, The Penelopiad is a stunning production that examines the voicelessness of not only the title character but also the anonymity of the women around her. Follows gives a superb performance, running the gamut of emotion while interacting with the audience through subtle facial expressions and gestures. The audience leaves thinking about the fate of Penelope and her maids long after the final curtain. Don't miss it!
The Penelopiad runs until February 10 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Visit nightwoodtheatre.net for more information and to buy tickets.
Read our review of Nightwood Theatre's 2011 production here.