“The Penelopiad”: A Greek myth redux

The cast of College Theatre’s production of “The Penelopiad” is entirely female.

The cast of College Theatre’s production of “The Penelopiad” is entirely female.

Photo by Danielle Moore ‘17

Horrific and funny, The Penelopiad – which finishes its run at Williams Center for the Performing Arts tomorrow – is not your average Greek saga.

Written by Canadian literary treasure Margaret Atwood and directed by Lafayette’s veteran dramatist and English Professor Suzanne Westfall, The Penelopiad features an all-female cast in a modern take on Homer’s epic Odyssey, but from the perspective of the women left behind.

This spare, intense production features Penelope, the long-suffering wife of the mythical Greek hero, Odysseus. Played by Emi Nicholson ‘14, Penelope strides out of the depths of hell, announces she has a much better take on her life now that she’s dead, and tells the true tale of Odysseus, (played by Brenna Murphey ‘14) a liar, braggart, and adulterer who left Penelope to fight the Trojan war and took another ten years to get back home.

Murphey’s performance was captivating and her stage presence was larger than life as she believably portrayed a male character.

“Odyssey is such a well-known story that it is ingrained in our culture’s psyche, and it is interesting to think that Odysseus might not be the hero I’ve always thought he was,” Kristin Curley ‘14, who plays one of Odysseus’ several lovers, said. “Being in this show has made me want to go back and reexamine all of my alliances.”

As Penelope recounts how she dealt with matters back home – details like running the kingdom, dealing with pushy suitors and espionage that ended up in the rape and death of her 12 handmaidens – the dead maids offer their chorus of lamentations, adding to the overall theme of Penelope’s outright vocalization of her oppression.

Although some early Canadian productions of The Penelopiad were criticized as too dark, this Lafayette production captures the underlying humor of play, offering viewers doses of laughter and emotion.

Definitely offering a sparse, 21-century interpretation of Greek myth, the play forgoes props in favor scenes shrouded in mist and shadowed with multicolored lighting.

A demanding show that requires actors to deliver emotion-packed scenes alternating with whimsical song and dance, The Penelopiad demonstrates the versatility of the entire cast and makes this production a must-see performance.

Judy Peet contributed to this review