Monday, October 21, 2019

“The Penelopiad” relates a tale of mythology, with contemporary undertones, at Ensemble

Most Americans know Margaret Atwood as the author of “The Handmaid's Tale,” the multi-award-winning television series.  

It, like “The Penelopiad,” which is now on stage at Ensemble Theatre, explores the theme of women living in a patriarchal society and the various means by which they attempt to gain individuality and independence.  
“The Penelopiad, originally was published as part of the “Canongate Myth Series,” in-which contemporary authors rewrite ancient myths. 
In both the play and novella, Penelope reminisces on the events of “The Odyssey.”  In Greek theatre tradition, a chorus of the twelve maids interrupt Penelope's narrative to express their view on events. 
The feminist-themed play, which is vintage Atwood, uses simple and easy to understand prose, often filled with humor and naïve rhyming schemes, to build on the conflicting connection between Penelope and Helen of Troy, as well as telling of the relationships between Penelope, Odysseus, their son and his caretaker.  

The two-hour production, handily directed by Celeste Consentino, is a study of the Greek format of theatre, using traditional staging, costumes and play-format to tell a tale with contemporary implications.  

The 12-woman supporting cast is strong. Each effectively plays various roles by changes of voice, body positions, and slight costume alterations.  

Cleveland Critic Circles and award winner, Amy Fritsche, is compelling as Penelope.  She schemes, she rants, she contrives.  She clearly creates a woman, living in a man’s world, who needs to use all her guile so as not to lose control of what she deems are her rights.

The technical aspects of the play work well.

It should be noted that the production contains strong language and themes and simulated sexual content.

Capsule judgment: “The Penelopiad” is a well-directed and performed play which exposes the audience to the lost art of Greek theater production while telling a contemporary tale of women caught in a man’s world.  It will be of interest to true theater-goers who appreciate quality theatrics.

The Penelopiad” runs through November 10, 2019 on Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Sundays @ 2.  Ensemble is housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to

Ensemble’s next production is Lynn Nottage’s “Intimate Apparel” from January 24-Feruary 23.  Sarah May directs.