Feminist Odyssey Imaginatively Told

Barry Gaines for The Albuquerque Free Press

The mythical Penelope is famous for her decades of

connubial fidelity — 10 years while her husband

Odysseus fought and defeated the Trojans and 10 years

while he took a circuitous and adventure-filled journey

home. In “The Penelopiad,” her life is reexamined

from a 21st-century perspective by the sophisticated

and sardonic Canadian writer Margaret Atwood.

Mother Road Theatre Company is offering an

outstanding production of “The Penelopiad” featuring

14 women playing a variety of roles under the attentive

direction of Julia Thudium. Thudium is excellent


at such ensemble pieces and, with original music by

Sid Fendley and choreography by Debra Landau, she

offers a charmingly spirited and visually attractive


Mother Road, homeless this season, has chosen to

stage “The Penelopiad” at the AirDance ArtsSpace in

southwest Albuquerque. The cavernous theater space,

especially the ceiling towering 24 feet, is imaginatively

exploited. Six pairs of gossamer silks cascade from the

ceiling. Decorative themselves, they are also used for

airdance poses and maneuvers, and woven in grand

patterns during dances. They also serve as scrims

where backlighting produces shadow tales. Director

Thudium does not miss a detail.

Alyssa Salazar costumes the cast in beige unitards

and short, opaque tissue wrap-around skirts. When

they portray males, they add a light golden cape. Some

cast members have small miners’ headlamps that they

can position to produce unusual light

patterns. The effect is a visual treat.

Wendy Scott plays the modern Penelope

who narrates her life in retrospect from

Hades, the Greek underworld where

the dead congregate. Penelope was the

daughter of King Icarius of Sparta (Bonnie

Hager) and a Naiad (water goddess)

mother (Stephanie Ann Landers). At age

15 Penelope was married off to Odysseus

(Katie Farmin), who rigged a footrace to

win her.

They moved to Ithaca where her in-laws,

father Laertes (Kate Chavez) and mother

Anticleia (Alissa Hall), were less than

loving. Things improved when she bore

a son, Telemachus (Kelsey Ann O’Keefe),

who was nursed by Eurycleia (Lee Kitts),

Odysseus’ former nurse.

Just when the family was settling down to life

in Ithaca, Penelope’s cousin, Helen (“the face that

launched a thousand ships,” portrayed by Jessica

Quindlen) left her husband Menelaus and ran away to

Troy with Paris. Helen is portrayed as a sexy flirt pursued

by a crowd of aroused men; Penelope calls her

“poison on legs.”

Like many other Greeks, however,

Odysseus had sworn an oath to aid Menelaus should

Helen be abducted, and he sails for Troy, leaving

Penelope and their son in Ithaca.

Over the years of separation, Penelope is besieged

by suitors and so she selects a dozen maids to provide

companionship and distract the men. Bridget S.

Dunne, Pip Lustgarten, Jen Stephenson, Rhiannon

Frazier, and Amy Bourque join the others already

mentioned in playing both maids and suitors. The

maids have some enjoyable songs and dances while

the suitors enact their impressions of loutish men.

“The Odyssey” is the story we already know. “The

Penelopiad” is all great fun with some helpful observations

on gender roles that Homer missed.