The Penelopiad puts clever contemporary spin on ancient Greek classic

The cast of The Penelopiad performing the modern reworking of Margaret Atwood’s novel. Audiences experienced a whirlwind of emotions while witnessing the story of Odysseus and Penelope unfold.
The cast of The Penelopiad performing the modern reworking of Margaret Atwood’s novel. Audiences experienced a whirlwind of emotions while witnessing the story of Odysseus and Penelope unfold.

By Pauline Theeuws

Audience members laughed and cried Oct. 10 in the Yvonne Theater at the performance of 13 young women. The Penelopiad, directed by professor of theater Trent Blanton, is a contemporary adaption of Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name.

The play challenges Homer’s The Odyssey by offering the audience the “other side of the story,” told by Penelope and her 12 maids. The actresses shifted emotions as well as genders and roles throughout the production.

After the lights dimmed, the stage design brought the audience into the theme of the sea, and Penelope, portrayed by senior musical theater major Marissa Girgus, started her soliloquy by telling her story from the beginning.

Once married, Penelope and Odysseus decide to go back to Ithaca, kingdom of Odysseus, and, shortly after, the newly-wed couple’s first son, Telemachus, is born.

Odysseus decides to leave for Troy to rescue Helen, cousin and shadow of Penelope.

Penelope does everything in her power to keep the ship from sailing, but to no avail. This unwillingness ultimately endangers her “most trusted eyes and ears,” her maids, to lose their purity.

As the years of Odysseus’ departure add up and suitors’ thirst for becoming king grows stronger, the faithful Penelope never gives up hope for her husband’s return.

Twenty years later, an angry Odysseus returns to Ithaca, where he hides from Penelope until bringing back “order” to the island, and, with his son’s help, Odysseus secretly murders the 12 maids. Penelope learns of the loss of her “snow white geese” and guilt starts to overwhelm her heart and conscience.

The first appearance on stage of the 12 cheerful and giggly maids who, just like Penelope, are wearing pure white ensembles, is a very clever way to bring these “ghosts” back to share their stories.

The audience was quickly given goosebumps by the dark and painful testimonies of the 12 maids, which progressively got more powerful and heartbreaking as the play went on.

The actresses portraying the 12 maids impressively juggled roles and genders as they were performing different characters in the play.

Senior musical theater major Emma Rose Brooks as Eurycleia, senior theater major Nicole Sheehan as Helen, sophomore musical theater major Ruby Westfall as Telemachus and senior theater performance major Juliana Long as Odysseus overcame the challenging roles.

These changes from laughter to weeping and from female to male characters were some of the many standout features of this contemporary play, which was sprinkled with many sexual allusions and the use of “urban” language.

The play ends with a desperate and heartbroken Penelope begging for freedom from the haunting souls of the murdered maids.

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