Penelope is a modern woman, living in a slightly shabby beach-front house. It’s filled with thrift-store furniture that she thought she’d eventually replace, but never got around to it. For years, it was comfortable that way. Then her husband (or ex-husband?) came back from war irrevocably changed, and now even the most ordinary furniture seems part of a strange and eerie landscape. The house has become the battleground for something going on inside of Odysseus.
She wants to help him, but she also resents him.
While her husband remains mute, Penelope sings in many voices. Are these all facets of her own experience and personality? Wife, siren, girl, goddess, sorceress – every woman must assume many roles to make her way through the world. And when Odysseus still does not speak, Penelope takes up his role and bears the burden of his memories herself. Are these memories real, or does she only imagine them? In the aftermath of war, Odysseus and Penelope are strangers on the most intimate terms. Recognizable and unknowable to one another.
The action takes place over a long evening and night, ending in the dawn the next day. Or does it? Maybe it’s several nights in a row – a pattern that blurs into one. Locked in trauma, both characters are disoriented when it comes to time.
Penelope began its trajectory in 2008 as a monodrama by Ellen McLaughlin with music by Sarah Kirkland Snider. A year later, Sarah reworked the musical material as an orchestral song cycle, performed by Shara Worden and Ensemble Signal. Tonight we present yet another iteration of this beautiful work of compassion and courage – an intimate look at the domestic cost of war, and an affirmation that both men and women are equally capable of hurt and of healing.
These notes are also found in the program book for Penelope. Tickets to Penelope (March 30 at 7:30 pm, in Lyric Opera’s Frost Production Arts Building) are $30, available at this link.
Left: Alison Moritz