Irish playwright Enda Walsh isn’t a big fan of the “terrible literalism of film.” And it shows in most of his work, not least of all in this piece based on a portion of Homer’s epic “The Odyssey,” where four men of varying ages, body types and personalities struggle against each other to win the love of the beautifully implacable Penelope (dancer/model Logan Vaughn) as she waits for her powerful husband to return home from war.
Congregating at the bottom of a drained pool clad only in Speedos and robes, surrounded by mountains made up of the folded and crushed pool chairs of their dead competitors, the four men, the dominating and forceful Quinn (Yasen Peyankov), the sensitive and bullied Burns (Ian Barford), the detached and philosophical Fitz (Tracey Letts, stepping in at the last minute for John Mahoney) and the faded conqueror Dunne (Scott Jaeck), are continuously doing battle with each other to prove their superiority.
“Penelope” can sometimes feel overly monologue-laden. The four men all get their turns to express themselves at great length, but each subsequent outburst further clarifies the true meaning of this abstract piece of work. And while the image of these men in Speedos is often played to comic effect (Walsh’s dialogue and the powerful cast (guided by director Amy Morton) help in this area) the underlying theme of love versus hate comes through loud and clear.
Both James F. Ingalls’ lighting and Walt Spangler’s elaborate set design start to play characters of their own; the whirling alarm lights and sporadic spotlights offset the faded baby blue of the gaping pool with its various escape ladders, drainage stains, and a glaring barbeque pit that has ceased functioning work together to provide a crumbling image of a modern society gone to seed.