Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad at Hart House Theatre

The women of the ensemble, Amanda Cordner as Penelope in The Penelopiad at Hart House Theatre, photo credit Scott Gorman
The women of the ensemble, Amanda Cordner as Penelope in The Penelopiad at Hart House Theatre, photo credit Scott Gorman

Hart House Theatre is currently performing The Penelopiad, from Nov. 9-24, 2018. The Penelopiad is based on the 2005 novella by Margaret Atwood, and this production is the Hart House Theatre debut for Director Michelle Langille. The play revolves around the story of Penelope as she struggles to maintain order, while her husband, Odysseus, is off to save Helen of Troy. This is a must-see for any fan of Atwood, as it reworks the events of The Odyssey to focus on the female perspective and experience.

I’ve spoken highly of Hart House Theatre’s past seasons, because they really do a wonderful job of nurturing creativity in their production teams, but this is absolutely my favourite show that I have seen thus far! Everything from set design, costumes, lighting, all the way through to the cast, was just phenomenal.

The women of the ensemble, Amanda Cordner as Penelope in The Penelopiad at Hart House Theatre, photo credit Scott Gorman
The women of the ensemble, Amanda Cordner as Penelope in The Penelopiad at Hart House Theatre, photo credit Scott Gorman

I’m going to start with the first thing that sets the tone upon entering the theatre: the stage. Set Designer Holly Meyer-Dymny did a wonderful job of creating a set that not only conveyed the whimsy of the classic myths, but it also allowed for the most fantastic levels throughout the show. Centre stage appears to be a dock, with the illusion of water in the background, and heavy white rope throughout that is eventually transformed by the entire cast to give the illusion of a ship. The transformation is so successful, and despite being done before the audience’s very eyes, still leaves one in awe at how it all came together. Absolutely gorgeous set!

The cast of thirteen were all dressed in identical nude-toned robes, with the exception of Penelope herself who wore a teal-coloured dress with jewels and gold accessories. The nude robes and nude sandals worked perfectly to set the play during the classical Greek era, but also brought the twelve actors together as a full chorus. Costume Designer Cat Haywood skillfully used accessories that transformed each chorus member into other characters in the cleverest comedic way, like using tassels and upholstery finishes to create a wig and bear.

Steph Raposo’s background lights on stage are magical and range through every colour of the rainbow, but they’re perfectly synced with mood and movements of the actors. There’s no soundtrack or music, aside from the chorus themselves, so the additional sound effects by Sound Designer Andy Trithardt work to transform the space and whisk the audience away to a completely different time.

The chorus is played by such strong actors, and each of them bring acute comedic timing. Arielle Zamora is hilarious as Odysseus! She understands the arrogance and dumb-luck written into the character by Atwood and showcases those elements perfectly. One of the biggest laughs from the audience came from the smallest moment, and Zamora absolutely nailed it! Hope to see this actor again on the Hart House Theatre stage, as I’m sure it’ll be another brilliant performance.

Despite being set in classical Greece, the language of The Penelopiad is quite modern at times, which can be tricky to balance for an actor. Amanda Cordner plays Penelope, and does a superb job of presenting the grand emotions of the love story, the gut-wrenching reality of Odysseus’s return, as well as the cynicism and hilarity of having to out-manoeuver her impatient suitors. She takes the audience on a journey with the character in such a vivid manner that you can’t help but feel invested and grieve with Penelope when everything hits the fan.  I cannot speak highly enough about Cordner’s performance in The Penelopiad.

It’s important to note that Atwood’s novella works to highlight the double-standard between the sexes, but also to question the notion of a “good and dutiful wife.” Director Langille points out that in our current political and societal climate, it’s important to reflect upon the silencing dismissal of women’s voices.

Once again, Hart House Theatre presents a work of art that is sadly more relevant than ever, and an opportunity for the audience to reflect on serious matters of life. The Penelopiad is absolutely gorgeous and well worth watching. Again, fantastic job to both the cast and the production crew! Make sure to grab your tickets before closing night because this is absolutely one show you’ll regret missing.

The Penelopiad at Hart House Theatre runs until November 24, 2018. Tickets are Adults $28, Seniors $17 and Students $15. On Wednesdays, student admission is $12. Book online and pick up tickets at the Hart House Theatre Box Office before the show.