In just under a week, I got a second taste of the power of women in theatre when I saw Nightwood Theatre’s strikingly beautiful production of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre last night. And best of all, I got to see it with a bunch of my Alumnae Theatre pals, all women who work in theatre in one way or another, who I bumped into by chance on the way over.
Kelly Thornton directs a fierce ensemble of 13 women, telling (Odysseus’s wife) Penelope’s – played by Megan Follows – side of The Odyssey. The ensemble of maids, who also double as various other characters – exploring masculine and feminine power in this time and place – includes Maev Beaty, Christine Brubaker, Raven Dauda, Sarah Dodd, Monica Dottor, Kelli Fox, Cara Gee, Pat Hamilton, Tara Rosling, Pamela Sinha, Sophia Walker and Bahia Watson. Stand-outs for me were Follows, who takes Penelope from a 15-year-old innocent to a queen fighting for her missing husband’s kingdom, and Fox, whose Odysseus was wonderfully cunning and charming, not to mention studly. Sinha was an alluring tease as the bomb shell Helen – referred to by Penelope as “that septic bitch” – while Watson played the young prince Telemachus with a lovely combination of passion, pain and brashness.
Like Alumnae Theatre’s current production of The Trojan Women (which shows the other side of this war story), the design is also a star of The Penelopiad – in this case, by Denyse Karn (set/costumes), Kimberly Purtell (lights) and Suba Sankaran (composer/sound). Minimalist, modular and beautiful, block and stair units transform into palaces, dining halls and bed chambers, while the trains of gowns become kimonos, table cloths and bed covers. And the ominous nooses that portend the execution of the maids are used in the weaving scene, the movement of the maids beautifully choreographed by Monica Dottor. The chorus of maids also sing and create soundscapes together, from lullaby to the haunting spiritual-inspired mourning after they are raped by Penelope’s suitors.
And to top the excitement of the evening, playwright Margaret Atwood was in attendance – and the house was packed.
A thoroughly powerful and magical evening of storytelling. With only a few performances left and, given the production’s massive popularity, you’d best contact the box office: http://buddiesinbadtimes.com/show.cfm?id=774
And Alumnae pal Tina McCulloch was right – The Penelopiad and The Trojan Women (the latter now playing at Alumnae Theatre) make a nice pair of shows to see. At the end of the Trojan war, whether on the victorious side or that of the defeated, the women never really win – but, man are they resilient.