Melissa Lorraine, Theatre Y‘s artistic director, translates and stars in the organic play Penelope, O Penelope by Simon Abkarian.The play runs until May 17 in the second-floor theatre space at St. Luke’s Church.
This is a modern take on Homer’s The Odyssey, mostly from the perspective of Dinah (played by Lorraine) awaiting the return of Elias (played by Rich Holton) who’s been gone for 20 years.
To say this play is sensual, dramatic and full of emotion is an understatement. There is an organic and raw nature to the entire production, due in part to the floor-level stage covered in dirt that the audience must walk over to get to their seats.
The stage of dirt covers most of the floor and the actors take advantage by using nearly all the space given to them. The actors even act backstage with silhouettes that are cast against a movie screen that defines the back of the set; the movie screen is also used to project film of Odessa (Catalina Vasile) to interact with the on-stage world.
The world within which the play takes place is directed by Eva Patko, who has directed original and classic plays in Europe and the U.S. She says her current directorial focus is on the relationship between the audience and the performers, and to help her out Romanian novelist Zsolt Lang has joined her as the play’s dramaturg (a dramaturg is a director’s assistant who focuses on research and scene building). It’s hard to say if bringing in an international director and dramaturg makes a difference, but it doesn’t hurt since Theatre Y is committed to a global approach with its subject matter and production.
Taking the play in a very suggestive and sometimes sleazy direction is Ante (played by Kevin V. Smith), the lanky businessman who tries seducing Dinah. While the other players showed serious acting chops, it was Smith’s character who in my opinion stole the show. At times I wanted to hate him and be embarrassed for him, while at other times I wanted to give the poor guy a hug. When he tries to get Dinah to renounce her marriage, there’s a palpable sadness in his attempts.
All in all, Theatre Y’s production of this classic retelling is worthy of the 2.5 hours (with an intermission) spent seated in the dusky theatre. To me, it didn’t seem like 150 minutes had passed in total after the much speedier second act concluded.
A final note is that the cast makes themselves available to field questions from the audience and is very gracious with their time after the show.
The play Penelope, O Penelope runs through May 17. Tickets are available through Theatre Y.