In The Odyssey, Penelope has more than 100 suitors to contend with. In Enda Walsh’s Penelope, at St. Ann’s Warehouse, that number has dwindled to just four. (And will dwindle further.) In the bottom of a drained, moldy swimming pool, these men apply suntan lotion, fix cocktails, and compete to win her love. That they’ve all just had a dream prophesying Odysseus’s violent return lends some exigency to their dating game.
In his previous St. Ann’s shows, The Walworth Farce and The New Electric Ballroom, Walsh depicted ordinary people who elevate past events to the status of myth. Here, he merely borrows from Homer’s legends. While Walsh’s language remains vigorous and vivid, and the performances—by a quintet of actors from Ireland’s Druid theater company, under Mikel Murfi’s direction—are predictably expert, the material is perhaps less fresh.
Even while cribbing Homer’s structure and setup (if not his dactylic hexameter), Walsh continues his signal preoccupations: the problems of language and the price that speech exacts. Each man tries to woo Penelope in turn, betraying either himself or his fellows in the process. One of the men may insist, “Conversation you can keep. Words are cheap.” But in Walsh’s world, any utterance will cost you dearly.