Magic, Uncertainty, and Mystery: a Review of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad | By Goran Miletic and Emerson Csorba

The Wanderer’s Goran Miletic and Emerson Csorba attended the Wednesday April 10 performance of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad at the downtown Citadel Theatre. Their review opens The Wanderer’s week-long series of articles dedicated to the Edmonton arts scene, where the magazine’s writers delve into the minds of Festival City’s arts champions.

Miletic: Strong, beautiful and smart. The performance of thirteen talented female actress’ took place at the Citadel on the night of Wednesday April 10, for another great showing of The Penelopiad. The performance features indignant young woman, Penelope, whose famous husband (none other than Odysseus himself) sails away for a journey that leaves her alone for twenty years. The story is shaped and dramatized by these thirteen riveting songstresses and their immaculate dialogues, who tell us the story of this Greek housewife, through the ‘worm’s eye view’ if you will. Through this performance, the audience sees the despair of Penelope’s years left alone in Ithaca, with only a son and twelve handmaids.

Csorba: Beth Graham, the lead character in the production, opens with a monologue. With the audience’s attention squarely on her, Graham establishes a connection with the audience that would only build throughout the performance. In the beginning, I was unsure as to how the performance would unfold, having never read Atwood’s The Penelopiad; however, Graham’s sincerity provided continuity as the plot unfolded.

Miletic: “Now that I am dead, I know everything”: these are our main character Penelope’s first words. We follow her story from the afterlife and venture into her beginnings of birth, childhood and to the fateful day she is reluctantly married off to Odysseus, only to be living alone for years. Brenda Bazinet does an incredible job directing these thirteen women, who tell a tale of what may seem at first a tragic story of a housewife and her self-pity, murder and trivial jealousy towards her cousin, Helen of Troy. Scenes of pride, anger, and even comedy are laced throughout the performance, particularly at the beginning of act two, where the narcissistic Helen speaks unequivocally of her own beauty and fate.

Csorba: I was pleasantly surprised that the performance left me giggling throughout. There were several hearty laughs, specifically near the conclusion of the first act, just prior to the intermission. The thirteen actresses worked seamlessly together, making for a roller coaster of emotions that seemed to keep the audience keenly aware throughout the performance. The comedy established an equilibrium with the seriousness of the plot.

Miletic: The choreography by Dayna Tekatch grabs your attention and enhances the audience’s perception of the stage, almost dignifying the scenes taking place. And there was no lack of ingenuity: the design of the stage, costumes and props were consistently creative throughout The Penelopiad. No matter the scene, Bretta Gerecke established trust with the audience, with an imagination in her designs that guided viewers in comprehending the scenes at hand. Thus, Gerecke created an even greater bond between the audience and the performance than what was present in the opening scene. Indeed, that is what theatre is all about: visually appreciating the act and using one’s own senses to enhance the beauty in front of us. In short, I found myself needing to do little in order to understand the performance.

Csorba: The costumes were simple and elegant, and situated the performance within an Ancient Greek milieu. The fluffy pillows, placed at centre stage in various scenes, were surprisingly effective in transitioning the characters from location to location. At several points throughout the production, I would think to myself, “Jeez, I wish I could have those pillows… they seem pretty comfy!”

Miletic: Overall, the performance shared copious scenes of magic, uncertainty, mystery, despair, anger, humour – and even insanity. These emotions blended together perfectly. It was as if these women floated on a continuous stream of water: everything from the singing and acting, to the movements on the stage were liquid. Flawlessly executed and beautiful. A tune for my eyes and ears.

Csorba: Having taken in The Penelopiad, we strongly recommend that Edmontonians make their way to the Citadel Theatre for the many upcoming productions to come.

Cover photograph is courtesy of Epic Photography.

For more information about Citadel productions, please make your way to this website

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