PENELOPE by Enda Walsh
If one is unfamiliar with Homer's story of Odysseus, King of Ithaca, his ten years absence from the lovely Penelope and how the locals all came to court her, Enda Walsh’s play will be difficult at best to ‘get.’ A prolific Irish playwright, Walsh (Tony winner 2011 for the book for the musical Once) is a romantic. Odysseus is still absent after ten years away from home. We find ourselves in Penelope's empty swimming pool where four men, Richard Fancy: Fitz, Ron Bottitta: Dunne, Scott Sheldon: Burns and in for Brian Letscher as Quinn: Gugun Deep Singh. These are the last four of a hundred suitors who have come to court Penelope. They banter with one another in an attempt to impress her… and each other.
As this is an Irish play, the choice for the actors to assume Irish accents (which come and go) may have been a questionable choice. Understanding the dialogue is sometimes challenging. The pecking order of the suitors may represent the playwright himself at different ages and temperaments. They do their best to posture boldly when suddenly we see Penelope (silent and lovely Holly Fulger) observe them from above in her poolside cabana. They are trapped on video! Corwin Evans’ excellent video design creates another world impression as the men posture, pose and plead for Penelope’s favor. Designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz has imagined a dirty pool complete with Greek tiles which give us the distinct feeling of No Exit.
Recently, “Murray” the last of the suitors to “exit,” leaving a bloody mess on the walls, was a suicide. Sticking it out for the favors of a beautiful woman loyal to her long lost husband plays cruel tricks upon the mind. The business of having to be ready to show off your strength at a moment’s notice … at the whim of the beauty who is bound to reject you, takes its toll.
Elder of the company, Fitz, Richard Fancy, collides with Dunne as the pressures of the contest build. Understudy, Singh / Quinn, has the lion’s share of work to do and brings it off with bravado. His turn in the spotlight, literally, has him portraying famous lovers from history, including Napoleon and Josephine as well as both Romeo and Juliet. His inflated heart rises to Penelope and bursts.
As the least aggressive of the quartet, Burns, tries to explain how he cared for the now dead Murray, things get more strange. Fitz, Dunne and then Burns turn on Quinn and in a scene right out of Julius Cesar, bloodily dispose of him. A new term in the program credits Ned Mochel with “Violence Design.” The action is violent and well executed. Indeed, the energies kept well in tow by director John Perrin Flynn, explode with the three remaining suitors covered in blood.
Burns seems to be the voice of the playwright, extolling the virtues of love and exclaiming that the remaining three are ‘dead men’ which may be Walsh’s reflection on the nihilism of Beckett. Wearing different conical party hats that remind of Krapp’s Last Tape, Burns asks Quinn, “How can you talk about love with no regard for your own life?” This is prophetic as in the end, Odysseus returns and the remaining three all become food for worms.
The pre-show music of the fifties (Why Do Fools Fall In Love?) helped to confuse the actual time for the story, though set in a limbo of time seems appropriate with modern booze and a gas barbecue. Walsh has messages for his audience. Not always clear, the energy of the actors and the sometimes garbled dialogue still relay an interesting, even powerful and theatrical piece. Do the four men represent stages of the playwright’s life? Out of shape guys in Speedos? Singh’s Quinn is younger and more hefty. It must mean something.
PENELOPE by Enda Walsh
Rogue Machine Theatre
At Theatre Theater
5041 Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
8pm Fridays and Saturdays,
3pm on Sundays through August 17, 2014
Tickets $30. Reservations: