Produced at Ohio University and directed by David Haugen, the all-female cast of The Penelopiad tells the story of Penelope's life, including her childhood, her marriage, and her long period of waiting for her beloved husband Odysseus. But it also tells of the maids who were raised around her and beneath her. Their tragedies are the ones that ultimately become her burden in the afterlife and are the stories she must tell in order to free herself of the overwhelming guilt. My overall design concept was to have Greek influence but with modern elements.
Among the many design challenges was the soundscape of Penelope's current location: Hades. I discovered that Hades was said to have five rivers that flowed into the center of Hades: Styx, Lethe, Cocytus, Phlegethon, and Acheron. I took each river's personality and created an abstract design. I then assigned them each a speaker in an area of the house and stage, with a central Hades area over the center of the stage and a subwoofer rumbling in the vomitorium to represent the pits of Tartarus. The result was a moving soundscape that changed from one seat to the next. Since a theme of this show was perspective, I wanted each audience member to experience the atmosphere differently.
Penelope's father receives a prophecy from a mysterious Oracle and her snake that states that his newborn daughter will "weave her father's Shroud." I used a lute with heavy reverb and delay combined with my own vocalizing, snakes hissing, and me whispering the prophecy in Greek. The scene was mysterious and ominous.
After the prophecy, Penelope's father decides to throw his infant daughter off of a cliff rather than risk her possibly murdering him in the future. Luckily, a flock of purple striped ducks come to her rescue. This piece was written to accompany the fluid movement of the flock.
When Penelope comes of age to be married, her father announces an athletic contest. Since she is a princess and has a large dowry, many men show up to win her hand and her money. One of the men is Odysseus. Haugen asked for a piece with "swagger" to introduce our "male" protagonist as he spikes the drinks of the other contestants to slow them down.
Among the spectators to show up to watch the contest is Penelope's "frenemy" cousin, Helen. Helen is the embodiment of beauty and sass, so I composed a piece for Helen's dramatic entrances. The piece matches her personality by utilizing lutes, ouds, and "chika chika" guitar.
Penelope's hand is won by the clever trickster Odysseus. Penelope is nervous her first night, but comes to love him when he says he wants to become friends first. I created a piece to underscore their consummation by composing a theme. The theme is introduced in a high octave to represent Penelope and then is repeated in a lower octave to represent Odysseus. As their marriage is consummated, the two octaves join together.
Soon, Penelope gives birth to a son, Telemachus. His birth is explained by the maids through a lyrical poem entitled "The Birth of Telemachus, an Idyll." Haugen asked me to explore the word "idyll," which means "happy, peaceful, or picturesque." I composed a light and airy piece with softly churning percussion that played in direct contrast to the violent words the maids are saying.
After less than a year of marriage, Odysseus is called away to fight in the Trojan War. Ten years pass before the war ends. The maids reenact the final fall of Troy in a "bloodlit dumbshow." I composed with heavy percussion and electric guitar to match the violence being described and created a giant war scene within the house. Horses galloped around the outer ring of speakers, women and children screamed, and sword clashes bounced rhythmically through different speakers.
After Odysseus has gone missing, Suitors begin showing up at the house to woo Penelope and gain access to her wealth. The Suitors are greedy and rude. They begin eating all of Penelope's food as a way of threatening her into choosing a husband. In this scene, several maids are dragged out onto stage as animals and are slaughtered by the glutinous Suitors.
The Suitors only get more violent. When they uncover Penelope's ruse with the Shroud, they beat and assault the Maids. This scene was executed using several slow motion moments. The music was cued so that it could be slowed at the correct times in the action.
Odysseus finally returns from his Odyssey to find that his home has been overrun by the violent Suitors. He disguises himself and wins the archery contest for Penelope's hand. He then reveals himself and slaughters each and every suitor with the help of Telemachus.
After Odysseus kills the Suitors, he turns to the Maids. Eurycleia condemns the Maids and Odysseus orders them to be hanged. For this scene, I recorded 45 separate tracks of myself vocalizing along with cello tremolo and building percussion. I was then able to localize each of these tracks in speakers around the house that grew as the Maids were hanged and then cut into a reverberated drum hit. The Maids hung motionless in silence.
After 20 long years, Odysseus comes home to his patient wife Penelope. She discovers that he has killed her faithful Maids in a misunderstanding and is unable to be truthful with him from that moment on. They are strangers again. I echoed this in the music by bringing back their theme. This time however, the melodies played out of sync to symbolize their estrangement.
The Maids are unforgiving of Odysseus, who had them murdered before giving them a fair chance to explain. In Hades, the Maids invoke the Furies to haunt and hunt Odysseus for the rest of his days. Penelope begs them to stop haunting him so they can be together in the afterlife, but they are unrelenting. Odysseus spends the rest of his existence reincarnating and running from his guilt, and Penelope spends hers trying to tell her story and gain forgiveness.
This show had very few moments of silence, which meant that I had to create extensive soundscapes as well as compositions. I utilized the large sound system to create moving sonic spaces. I also used this system to create larger than life moments, such as the vocalizations in Hanging scene and the screams and weaponry in the Fall of Troy.
Director: David Haugen
Scenic Design: Glenn Pepe
Lighting Design: Zach Weeks
Costume Design: Natalia de la Torre
Projection Design: Nathan Davis
Associate Sound Designer: Claire Autran
Stage Manager: Kimiko Demura
The Maids confront Penelope.