Penelope Review – An Unusual Odyssey at Steppenwolf

The second play in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s 2011/12 season, continuing the theme of Dispatches from the Homefront, is Penelope by Enda Walsh, directed by ensemble member Amy Morton featuring ensemble members Ian Barford as Burns, Tracy Letts as Fitz, and Yasen Peyankov as Quinn with Scott Jaeck as Dunne and Logan Vaughn as Penelope. This play continues to explore how everyday lives are touched by war but in a most unusual way.

Accompanying the program is an abridged comic book of “The Odyssey” which briefly tells or reminds the viewer about Odyssius, the great warrior who won the Trojan War and while attempting to go home to his beautiful wife, Penelope, 27 years went by. Interestingly, Odysseus’ name means “trouble” in Greek, referring to both the giving and receiving of trouble.  This story emphasized that winning a war is not the whole story.  And taking off from this story is Enda Walsh’s Penelope. This play focuses on four men on a sun drenched Greek island, each obsessed with winning the hand of Penelope before her husband returns to be reunited with her and they are killed.

The set is remarkable.  There are two levels; one is Penelope’s realm.  One of the remarkable parts of her space is the huge television that displays to her the antics of her suitors below.  The men below exist in an area that is a drained swimming pool and feels like a cage.

Interestingly, the two main characters include Penelope who does not speak and Odyssius, who is not seen, but is very present. The four men wooing Penelope are the last of the 100 or so who have been courting her for 10 years.  The four are 30 year-old Burns (Ian Barford), 40 year-old Quinn (Yasen Peyankov), 50 year-old Dunne (Scott Jacek) and 60 year-old Fitz (Tracy Letts) representing spring, summer, fall and winter. Their red Speedo swim trunks are definitely attention getting.  There they are aging men courting a woman who never ages, trying to save their lives by persuading Penelope to select one of them so they won’t be killed by Odysseus. The four reveal their personalities and their philosophies.  The audience leaves with much to ponder. 

Enda Walsh is an Obie Award-winning playwright and screenwriter whose plays include Disco Pig, The Walworth Farce, The New Electric Ballroom and Chatroom.  His 2008 biopic, Hunger, won numerous awards including the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Amy Morton’s many Steppenwolf directing credits include Clybourne Park, American Buffalo, Dublin Carol, The Weir, The Pillowman, Love-Lies-Bleeding (also Kennedy Center) and Glengarry Glen Ross (also Dublin and Toronto). 

The production team for Penelope includes: Walt Spangler (scenic design), Ana Kuzmanic (costume design), James F. Ingalls (lighting design) and Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen (original music and sound design).  Additional credits include: Erica Daniels (casting), Malcolm Ewen (stage manager) and Christine D. Freeburg (assistant stage manager).


Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 pm (Sunday evening performances through January 15 only)

Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 pm, Wednesday matinees on January 18 & 25 and February 1 at 2 pm

Note: There is no 7:30 pm performance on Tuesday, December 6; the evening performance on Sunday, December 11 begins at 6 pm; there are no 3 pm or 7:30 pm performances on Saturday, December 24 (Christmas Eve), Sunday, December 25 (Christmas Day) and Sunday, January 1 (New Year’s Day).


Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre,

1650 N. Halsted St.

Online ticketing available at


Accessible Performances:

terpreted performance: Friday, January 20 at 7:30 pm

Open captioned performance:  Saturday, January 21 at 3 pm

Audio-described performance plus touch tour: Sunday, February 5 at 1:30 pm (3 pm performance)


Free post-show discussions are offered after every performance.






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