With a nod to reality TV and homage paid to the Greeks, this snarling black comedy journeys through atonement and redemption…as only Tony Award winner Enda Walsh could write it. On a sun-scorched island off the Greek coast, four men living in Penelope’s (Holly Fulger)empty, derelict pool are the remaining survivors of 100 aspiring suitors, all testing her fidelity while she waits patiently for her husband, Odysseus, to return from the Trojan War. He has been away twenty years. Penelope, beautiful and elusive, lounges on a chaise longue in her villa boudoir above the pool and watches their tawdry ministrations on closed circuit TV.
The past-their-prime four, Quinn (Brian Letscher), Dunne (Ron Bottitta), Fitz (Richard Fancy), and Burns (Scott Sheldon), wear robes that they partially or completely remove at times to reveal them wearing nothing more than Speedos on their largely unattractive, seedy, aging bodies. While constantly consuming liquor, they preen, strut, jockey, and vie for glamorous Penelope’s attention and love, even though aware that when, and if, Odysseus returns they will be slain. Splattered blood on the pool wall is stark remaining evidence of the previous day’s violent demise of Murray, a fifth aspiring suitor.
On a stage whose background suggests the degradation and detritus of a long war, there’s also plenty of sunscreen and a table with drinks. The men squabble, joke, compare their body builds and discuss their mothers. Some long silences, stares, and controlling stances take place. Quinn, aggressive, and bully of the group, relentlessly taunts weedy, younger Burns, who shows signs of rebellion. He proclaims, “We are men, and what we do not do is trust.” A prominently placed barbecue with only one sausage left on the grill, turns out to have mystic properties, and is the subject of a similar, ominous dream all four men had the previous night, forecasting the return of Odysseus and their certain death at his hands.
They all, including sensitive Burns, deliver wordy speeches—at times senseless and unworthy of Penelope’s attention and love, and sometimes, surprisingly, sufficiently eloquent to draw her out briefly from her boudoir to hover mysteriously and wordlessly above them. Quinn includes some quick costume changes in a hilarious presentation of famous historical lovers’ courtship through the ages (Napoleon and Josephine, Romeo and Juliet, Jack and Jackie).
Fitz, the most literary, surprises with a monologue that starts falteringly, but despite its clumsy beginning, develops interestingly enough to entice Penelope from her boudoir. Though rather monologue laden, innuendos and gags abound in this love versus hate dark comedy. All four actors deliver strong performances, and the excellent direction, costuming, stage setting, design, sound, and lighting all deserve special mention. Enda Walsh’s Penelope is both gripping and thought provoking as the tension mounts inexorably to a violent conclusion.
What: PENELOPE —Los Angeles Premiere
Playwright: Enda Walsh
Directed by:John Perrin Flynn
Produced by: John Perrin Flynn and Brenda Davidson
Presented by: Rogue Machine Theatre
Enda Walsh was recently honored for his musical adaptation of the film “Once” on Broadway (8 Tony, 3 Lucille Lortel, 4 Drama Desk, 3 Outer Critics Circle, and 6 Laurence Olivier Awards, as well as a Drama League Award, NY Drama Critics Circle Award, and the Grammy Award in 2013 for Best Musical Theater Album.
CAST: (Credits for all cast and designers have been considerably reduced)
Ron Bottitta (Dunne) LA Stage: God Only Knows at Theatre 40, Rank, Theatre in the Dark and The Arsonists at The Odyssey, Yes,Prime Minister and Superior Donuts at The Geffen.
Richard Fancy (Fitz) is a founding member of Rogue Machine. He has a long list of Theater, Television, and Movie credits.
Holly Fulger (Penelope) Holly is a company member of Rogue Machine and was last seen in Where the Great Ones Run.
Brian Letscher (Quinn) was seen in Lone-Anon (Rogue Machine)
Scott Sheldon (Burns) is a graduate of Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse School in NYC and a new member of Rogue Machine.
John Perrin Flynn (Director) is Rogue Machine’s founding Artistic Director and has produced all 25 of the main stage productions, including the sell out (LA Times – CRITICS’ CHOICE) productions of Dying City and One Night In Miami.
Stephanie Kerley Schwartz (Set Design) is a multi-award winning costume and set designer, most recently recognized for her work on Rogue Machine’s Blackbird (LA Weekly Award).
Ric Zimmerman (Lighting Design) has worked at The Fountain, Theatre of Note, The Vagrancy, Theatre Forty.
Christopher Moscatiello (Sound Design) is an Ovation-nominated sound designer, composer, music editor and music director for theater, television and film.
Corwin Evans (Video Design) is a theatre artist who specializes in video and sound design. After receiving his MFA from UCLA in 2009, he has worked wherever he can for Los Angeles theatre.
Lauren Tyler (Costume Design) has worked at Rogue Machine on A Bright New Boise, The Sunset Limited, Treefall, and Ovation-nominated Compleat Female Stage Beauty with Stephanie Kerley Schwartz.
Photos by: John Flynn
PENELOPE opens on June 14thand runs at8pm Fridays and Saturdays, 3pm on Sundays through August 10, 2014.
Reservations: Rogue Machine Theatre
How much: $30
Runs: 95 minutes without intermission.
5041 W. Pico Blvd., LA, CA 90019.
(West of La Brea) Ample free parking