PCPA is proud to present Margaret Atwood’s new stage adaptation of her own wry and  witty novel, The Penelopiad, playing  in the Severson Theatre, Santa Maria, March 5 – 22.

Thanks to Homer’s Odyssey, we know that Penelope – the virtuous and very patient –  was married to the clever, strong, sensitive, and extremely good looking, Odysseus. They had just welcomed the arrival of a son, Telemachus, when Odysseus was, by oath, called upon to fight in the Trojan War caused by the abduction of his cousin – the stunningly beautiful – Helen. He was 10 years at war and spent another 10 years trying to get home amid a multitude of distractions of mythic proportion.  Upon his home-coming, Odysseus engages in an epic, historic, and gruesome slaughter of “the suitors” and 12 of Penelope’s handmaidens.

Now, we hear the story from wife Penelope’s point of view. How she endured 20 years alone, raising the heir to the throne, while protecting her husband’s kingdom from falling into unsavory hands and ultimately its ruination.

Author Margaret Atwood’s Penelope speaks to us after death from the underworld with her chorus of maids. Through a series of flashbacks we see from the beginning, the un-sportsman-like conquest that paired her with Odysseus, the rude treatment she suffered in his palace in Ithaca, and how it was her cleverness that kept an unruly mob of suitors from overrunning his house and leaving herself the spoils to the victors.  Atwood also provides the answer to the ancient mystery, why were the 12 maids – Penelope’s closest and most loyal confidants – hung?

In an interview published in the guardian October 26, 2005, Atwood explained that The Penelopiad “is dipping a toe in the theatrical waters out of which it came in the first place. Penelope’s opening speech presupposes an audience. She is speaking from the world of the dead to the world of the living. She wants to tell ‘you’ that she’s not what people thought, that other people had told stories about her, but now she is down in the underworld she doesn’t care about social convention, she’s going to tell her own story. She lives or dies depending upon which version of the myth you are reading or listening to. But Penelope doesn’t get as much airtime as Clytemnestra or Helen of Troy because she was not a tragic figure in the same sense. She didn’t kill anybody as such, and she was not killed herself.”

Atwood continued, “It’s surprising how many women there are in the Odyssey and they all help Odysseus, which is why I made him so charming. He’s the kind of guy women like – he has a lovely voice, he takes an interest in them, he understands human nature. That’s why he’s so persuasive: he doesn’t get his way by force, he’s not a thug. He was fun to be around. That’s why Penelope is sad he’s not there. He’s helped by women at every turn: by Helen in The Iliad, and by all the goddesses he meets along the way in The Odyssey. And then there’s Penelope holding the fort while he’s away. That’s the kind of guy he was.”

The Penelopiad is directed by Mark Booher with directorial assistance from Polly Firestone Walker, choreography by Elizabeth Stuart, movement by Karin Hendricks, and  directing voice and text is Kitty Balay. The creative team also includes Scenic Designer Abby Hogan, Costume Designer Alycia Matz, Lighting Designer Michael P. Frohling, Sound Designer/Composer Elisabeth Rebel and Stage Manager Ellen Beltramo.

The all-female cast includes Elizabeth Stuart* as Penelope, Karin Hendricks as Helen, Kitty Balay as Eurycleia, and Polly Firestone Walker as Odysseus.

Just the Facts