Nightwood Theatre’s Production of The Penelopiad written by Margaret Atwood is a sumptuous, visual feast.
This production is no small undertaking with a thirteen person all female cast, but under Kelly Thorton’s direction, they make it look easy. The choral work is extraordinarily precise which includes earthy modern dance, haunting singing and countless pictures of both beauty and chaos created by the ensemble.
The Penelopiad is a re-working of Homer’s The Odyssey but in this piece the focus is on the women. We watch the suffering of Penelope and her twelve handmaids as they wait patiently inIthaca for the return of their hero Odysseus. When he does decide to come home after twenty years of gallivanting with the boys in Troy, instead of rewarding the handmaids for their devotion to his wife, they are brutally and unjustly murdered and go on to spend the afterlife haunting Penelope.
The title role of Penelope is played by Megan Follows who richly layers her performance with humour, pathos, vulnerability and courage. I was pleasantly surprised at how much humour there was in the first act and perhaps we have Atwood’s modern voice to thank for this, breathing new life into an ancient tale.
Kelli Fox as Penelope’s husband Odysseus is simply fantastic. She is so rooted in her performance vocally and physically that you forget you are watching a woman playing a man and instead entirely believe in her masculinity. The same can be said for the spirited and authentic performance given by Bahia Watson as the son Telemachus. Who needs men in a performance when the women play them so expertly?
The stage was almost completely bare except for a few movable blocks and staircases. One ethereal image after the next was created with the imaginative use of costume pieces that were incorporated into the set design, both created by Denyse Karn. For example, the maids create ocean waves using a long piece of gossamer blue fabric which is part of the water-dwelling character Naiad’s dress, or Penelope’s wedding dress turns into the wedding feast’s tablecloth with her still in it. Kimberley Purtell’s lighting design imaginatively illuminates the worlds of dreams and nightmares with everything in between.
This ambitious production had the potential of going off the rails but instead the creative risk-taking created a truly satisfying and exciting piece of theatre.
The Penelopiad runs until January 29th at Buddies in Bad Times.