The Hippo


May 31, 2020








The suitors in Penelope. Matthew Lomanno photo.

See Penelope
Where: Stockbridge Theatre, 5 Pinkerton St., Derry
When: Friday, Feb. 28, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 1, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, March 2, at 2 p.m.
Admission: Tickets are $20, and the show is more appropriate for a PG-13 crowd

Speedos and monologues
theatre KAPOW’s Penelope a mix of funny and profound

By Kelly Sennott

 Penelope audiences will come for the speedos but stay for the script.

In the past two weeks, theatre KAPOW’s Facebook page has been cluttered with Penelope speedo photos, promotional videos and #TinyPackage jokes — referring to tiny bags that held the actors’ uniforms — but the company was drawn more to Enda Walsh’s contemporary play for the exquisite writing, said Matt Cahoon, theatre KAPOW co-founder and show director.
“It’s definitely a dark comedy, and you must know that coming in,” Cahoon said in a phone interview. “The first 15 or 20 pages are just hysterically funny — but then the whole play kind of turns on a dime and becomes very serious very quickly. … We like to do things with classics, or plays that are roughly related to classics, but this was also just a well-written script, so that’s what we really responded to,” Cahoon said.
The script is very loosely based on the myth of Odysseus and tells of the last four suitors competing for the hand of Penelope, Odysseus’s queen and an extraordinary beauty who hasn’t aged a bit in the 20 years since Odysseus left Ithaca to fight in the Trojan War. It’s been long enough that most of these suitors think — or rather, hope — that Penelope is now a widow, as most of the war’s other survivors returned home relatively soon.
The twist? The setting of Enda Walsh’s play is an empty, in-ground swimming pool, and all of her suitors must wear speedos. 
Here’s hoping the heat is on at Derry’s Stockbridge Theatre, which hosts the show Feb. 28 through March 2.
There are just five actors in Penelope: Neal Blaiklock, who plays Fitz; Peter Josephson, who plays Dunne; Colby Morgan, who plays Burns; Wayne Ashbury, who plays Quinn; and Gina Carballo, who, despite her role as Queen Penelope, doesn’t speak at all in Walsh’s play.
While the uniform did little to deter the actors from taking part in the show — the script is so good, Cahoon said, that they found four great suitors pretty easily — he wouldn’t say they all embraced the speedos. At the time of the interviews, the cast had been performing in their tiny fire engine red, blue plaid, green polka dot and orange tiger print swimsuits for a few weeks, hoping they’d become comfortable performing in them come showtime.
“One rehearsal, Carey gave us all little bags that held our costumes. They came in tiny packages, which became the tagline of the show,” Morgan said. He’s the youngest of the suitors, 23 years old and fresh out of college. “It didn’t really hit me until then. … I’ve never spent any time in a speedo, never mind time in front of audience members. But we’ve all become comfortable with the fact. Whether the audience will be comfortable with it, too, we’ll see.”
Penelope is also full of absurd, physical comedy — rumored scenes include fights that involve pepperoni beating and pencil stick-throwing — but it’s juxtaposed with poetry, Morgan said, which is perhaps one of the more epic draws for these actors. 
“Walsh writes these amazing, long speeches,” Cahoon said. 
Throughout the play, each suitor delivers a monologue in attempts to convince Penelope that he is the most worthy man for her, which aren’t funny at all, Cahoon said, but very profound. He said the play fits nicely with the Season 6 theme, “awake,” as it demands both artists and audiences develop a heightened sense of awareness of what’s happening in the world around us.
“The play also shows that men aren’t a whole lot different than 2,500 years ago. That’s what Walsh does well: he blends the lines of contemporary society in this classic world,” Cahoon said.
There’s a twist at the end that’s unique to Penelope, so even knowledgeable Greek mythology audience members won’t know beforehand. 
“The profound stuff is the meat of the play. The comedy becomes a necessary vent to allow for the really serious, dark conversations,” Cahoon said. “It’s a play that I think people will find funny and ... heartbreaking and terrifying, too.”  
As seen in the February 27, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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