It’s a rare treat to see so many talented women working on the same stage.
—Joff Schmidt, Theatre Reviewer
"After I was dead," Penelope tells us from Hades, "they turned me into a story. Though not the sort of story I'd have preferred to hear."
And so she weaves her own take on her story in The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood's retelling of the myth of Odysseus (he of the very long business trip) from the vantage of his long-suffering wife Penelope. Atwood's stage script offers a smart, intriguing, though dramatically flawed version of her 2005 novella - but it's given a superb production at the RMTC Warehouse by director Tracey Flye and her all-local, all-female cast of 11.
For the most part, Atwood's script works. As might be expected from one of the country's best writers, there's often an arresting poetry to the dialogue - and just as often, a dry wit that results in many laugh out loud moments. ("It is not always clear," a priest says of Penelope's future at her birth. "The gods often mumble.")
The central notion - a retelling of The Odyssey from the point of view of a woman, in a world where women are relegated to second-class status and then summarily ignored and/or abused - creates a compelling reexamination of a story we think we know. It's filled with both humour and heartbreak.
The Penelopiad's flaw, though - and it's significant - is in the central character. Atwood has Penelope act as narrator as well as protagonist, and so she's often stuck in the thankless role of propelling the story forward. While Jennifer Lyon brings a dignified grace to the part, it's hard to make these moments truly sing. And as she's so often trapped in narration, it feels as though we don't get to know Penelope as well as we'd like here. We understand her plight well enough - but not the character herself.
From a production standpoint, though, The Penelopiad is a triumph. The cast, most of whom take on dual roles, is a mix of some of the city's finest veteran actors (like Lyon, Sharon Bajer, Sarah Constible, and Kimberley Rampersad), and relative newcomers to the RMTC stage (Gwendolyn Collins, Andrea del Campo, Jaclyn Ann Kurceba, Erin McGrath, Paula Potosky, Alix Sobler and Stephanie Sy). They uniformly deliver impressive performances, and it's a rare treat to see so many talented women working on the same stage. And while it seems unfair to single anyone in the ensemble out, it should be said that Constible steals her scenes as Odysseus, who is more cunning con man than dashing hero here, with superb comic work.