Penelopiad Reimagines The Odyssey through the Eyes of Penelope
CFA stages Atwood’s spirited all-female tale
By Susan Seligson
In Margaret Atwood’s play The Penelopiad, based on Homer’s epic The Odyssey, Odysseus’ spouse, Penelope, is portrayed in a way we’ve never known her: caustic, crafty, and unflinching. The biting, often giddy romp of a play, features an all-female cast, led by Christine Hamel (CFA’05), a College of Fine Arts assistant professor of theater. The School of Theatre production runs tonight through March 2 at the Calderwood Pavilion’s Wimberly Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts.
In this contemporary reimagining of The Odyssey, which the author adapted from her 2005 novella, the dead Penelope narrates her tale from a 21st-century Hades, in a state she describes as “liplessness, breastlessness.” Joined in the underworld by her 12 unfaithful handmaidens, who were hanged upon Odysseus’ return, Penelope recounts her teenage marriage, her desolate Trojan War decades, and the way she outfoxed a parade of suitors during the wanderings of her husband, whose story we all know well.
Known primarily as a novelist (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin), Atwood has also written poetry collections. She has received numerous prizes, among them the Man Booker Prize.
Atwood’s play “is a wonderful blend of both classical and contemporary sensibilities,” says director Elaine Vaan Hogue (CFA’97), a CFA assistant professor and head of theater arts. “Her twist on this well-known myth turns it on its head by giving Penelope the opportunity to tell her story in her own voice.”
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