The Penelopiad, directed by Megan Follows, is a product of significant pieces of literature written by two well-known authors in our literary canon. Margaret Atwood’s novel The Penelopiad was published in 2005 and explores the events of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, the sequel to The Iliad. Atwood’s novel and the play do not follow the adventures of Odysseus himself, played by Praneet Akilla, but rather his wife, Penelope, played by Seana McKenna. The focus on Penelope opens up a new, exciting perspective for those who have read The Odyssey. In contrast, the play provides enough detail that audience members do not need to be familiar with Homer’s works. Both types of audience member are given the opportunity to witness an amalgamation of literary genius and a cast and crew that gives justice to the source material.
The new perspective that is presented through Penelope is both witty and frightening as audience members learn the true weight of Odysseus’ actions. The play includes a few songs that vary in genre, ranging from a haunting playground song to a broadway-style number. The Greek chorus that performs these numbers is comprised of nine women and one man who fully immerse themselves into the roles that they are playing. Their various roles include maids, suitors, and Penelope’s family members. The chorus lives up to the challenge of playing these vastly different characters, often removing or adding one piece of their costume on stage to symbolize the change. The costuming helps audience members remember the different characters and the use of facial expressions and body language helps support these quick changes. In a scene where Penelope addresses her suitors, the chorus seamlessly turns from aggressive, loud men into a group of Penelope’s dedicated maids.
The costuming of the production, by Dana Osborne, and the set, designed by Charlotte Dean, are both brilliant and functional. As previously mentioned, the costumes gave audience members visual cues to keep track of the large cast of characters in the play. The Greek chorus is dressed in mute browns, and boldly-coloured costume pieces are added in an innovative fashion. It is a joy to watch the smoothness of the set changes as each set piece and prop serves multiple functions; a tray becomes a shield, a platform becomes a bed frame, and pieces of fabric become a dress, sail, or veil.
Projections, designed by Jamie Nesbitt, are also a significant part of the production. Most of the projections appear at the back of the stage and use imagery that help define the setting or key ideas of each scene. In addition, there is a semi-transparent screen that covers the set during certain scenes to create a layered effect. For example, the opening sequence includes a solid projection of pristine Greek columns. The projection then turns semi-transparent and the columns appear to be in ruins as it reveals Penelope walking through a dark and foggy Hades.
If you are interested in seeing a classic work of literature from a new perspective or are looking to see a talented cast perform a powerful story, The Penelopiad at the Grand Theatre will not disappoint. Margaret Atwood, Megan Follows, and Seana McKenna are all brilliant Canadian women, and their incredible work can be seen in the Grand Theatre’s production of The Penelopiad. The play opened on January 25th will run until February 9th. Visit the Grand Theatre’s webpage to buy tickets: http://grandtheatre.com/event/margaret-atwoods-penelopiad