Undermain Theatre's production of "Penelope" by Enda Walsh attempts a study of mankind at his darkest and most absurd.
Walsh wrote "Penelope" in response to a call for plays based on Homer's The Odyssey, and his play focuses on a storyline that is only a minor vignette in the original.
As Penelope awaits her husband's return from war, a horde of suitors gathers to vie for her heart and a chance to replace Odysseus as her husband. In Walsh's play we hear talk of the hundred or so men who initially accepted the challenge, but when the action of the play picks up, only four remain.
We follow a day in the life of Dunne (Bruce DuBose), Fitz (R Bruce Elliott), Quinn (Max Hartman) and Burns (Gregory Lush), Penelope's four aging suitors as they arise and steel themselves for the day with the help of alcohol and banter.
Although the day is little different for the men who have spent each day in much the same manner, idly wasting time waiting for the few minutes they have to profess love to the dear Penelope who watches the action in the drained swimming pool from a video camera in her room. The use of the camera and the premise of the plot imbues the action with the feeling of a "Bachelorette"-esque reality show gone horribly wrong.
On the day the action of the play takes place, an ominous pall hangs over the men as they realize they've each had the same prophetic dream of Odysseus' return and the jealous rage with which he will be consumed finding them in his pool, making love to his wife.
Quinn's solution? Band together to support the others, after all, if Penelope has already chosen a husband, Odysseus' anger will be negated.
What follows is an hour of action in which the men plumb the depths of their emotions. They in turn contemplate time, love and death as they realize the waste their life has been. Although brief attempts are made to support Dunne and Quinn in their quest, competition, the only thing they have to live for, emerges victorious when Penelope makes a brief appearance during Fitz's beautifully crafted and brutally honest monologue reflecting on his situation. Her first appearance is too much for Quinn to stand and jealousy prevails.
Walsh's play resembles a world of Beckett's; an absurd world populated by men who although retaining a sense of humor, have nothing of substance to live for. The comic and occasionally slapstick elements of the play are delivered excellently by an all-star cast of Dallas' leading men, and Elliott's delivery of Fitz's poignant monologue when it comes his turn to take the microphone, elicited cheers on opening night.
Undermain's production of "Penelope," brilliantly directed by Stan Wojewodski, Jr., is as emotional as it is amusing. Undermain's audience is given a brilliant rendition of Walsh's portrayal of men at the end of their rope and the lengths to which competition, even when it is futile, will drive them.