Penelope: Mortality Realized in the Deep End

Penelope, which ran at the Studio Theater in Logan Circle as part of its Enda Walsh Festival, really grew on me.  At first, I wasn’t sure how to feel about one of my favorite classics, The Odyssey, being riffed upon by an irreverent Irishman who put his characters in Speedos.

But Enda Walsh proved to me that he can find epic humanity even in the silly and ridiculous.  Like his first play, Disco Pigs, the action becomes very serious very abruptly, startling the characters and the audience.  The play itself centers on “the impotence and self-absorption of the men on shore” instead of our hero out in the Adriatic.  Walsh wanted to tell the Odyssey story in his own way: “I wanted to do the heroic small and dirty and cockroach style.”

The action begins in a drained swimming pool.  Four decaying and slightly pudgy suitors continue to compete for the hand of Penelope, whose husband, Odysseus, may or may not still be alive and about to return.

The proceedings take on a murderous urgency as a years-long competition comes to a close.  The action reeks with the stench of reality television, but that doesn’t make it any less personal.  The idea of trust is volleyed back and forth–Can trust ever exist when we’re in competition?  Aren’t we always in competition?  Where does love enter into this?

As each suitor makes his last proposal as persuasive as he can, Walsh is able to spill out words like a geyser into the script.  Each suitor takes a different and bizarre route to Penelope’s heart, exhibiting the strange things people believe will make them desirable.  See more reviews here, but know that the Enda Walsh Festival is worth your while.  There’s nothing like a “word-drunk fever dream” to take you away from your daily DC routine.

The Studio Theater itself is near perfect–the theater is small, the lobby is spacious, the prices are…pricey.  Unless you have a valid student ID, be prepared to pay $35-65.  But for students who call the box office on the day of, tickets are $15.


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