In a season dedicated to myth, Undermain Theatre will revisit the Trojan War with Penelope, by Enda Walsh, after opening the season with An Iliad, by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare. But Odysseus won’t return to the company’s resident basement space under Main Street—instead he will steer the blood-steeped action of Walsh’s poetic variation on The Odyssey to the brand-new Dallas City Performance Hall, where Undermain will become the first theatre company to perform.
As the winner of the 2012–13 Meadows Prize, Irish playwright Walsh has conducted several workshops at Dallas’s Southern Methodist University during his artistic residency. Stan Wojewodski Jr., chair of SMU’s theatre department, will direct Penelope, which runs Jan. 10–26. “Although the overlap wasn’t intentional, it’s been pretty insightful to see the playwright’s process up close,” says Wojewodksi, who’s been on hand to watch Walsh work with students. “The dialogue is so articulate and the imagery so powerful that it’s been nice to gain insight before directing the play.”
Penelope, originally produced in 2010, takes place in and above an empty swimming pool as four of the title character’s suitors wait for a turn to woo Odysseus’s long-suffering wife. Occasionally a TV screen displays a love monologue from one of the pool-stranded suitors. And, as the return of Odysseus begins to loom, the men devise a plan to avoid the heroic husband’s revenge.
The 750-seat City Performance Hall accommodates the play’s two-story set in a way that Undermain’s intimate 80-seat home in Deep Ellum never could. Rather than utilizing the proscenium in a standard way, the production seats the audience onstage with the performers. Completed in September 2012, the hall in the heart of the Dallas Arts District (which was originally intended to hold two black box theatres, on which construction has been postponed) has primarily been used for concerts and dance performances. Wojewodski feels that Penelope might offer a solution to the problem of how to use the cavernous space productively. “You can’t beat this venue’s location,” Wojewodski notes, “and it’s great to be working with a company that is willing to experiment creatively in the space.”