In the world of adapting ancient stories, inventing “the history behind the myth” is the order of the day. From Wolfgang Peterson’s film Troy to Esther Friesner’s young adult novel Nobody’s Princess, modern artists are bringing us “believable” versions of Homer’s epics, devoid of gods and monsters, and Parley Productions’ Maiden Voyage falls squarely within this trend.
True to its subtitle, “A Feminist Reimagining of The Odyssey,” Maiden Voyage weaves us a history behind the myth in which Penelope, the true author of The Odyssey, spins tales of her absent husband’s encounters with gods and monsters in order to raise a son longing for a father he has never known.
In itself, this is an intriguing premise, and Rebecca Tourino Collinsworth’s world premier play shows a lot of potential. Penelope’s authorship of The Odyssey and her reasons for writing it, the shattering of Penelope’s image as the quintessential faithful wife, and the portrayal of Odysseus’ true journey as a struggle with PTSD (which gives the play its most powerful scene) are all innovative elements that will resonate with modern audiences. As a play, however, Maiden Voyage falls into many of the pitfalls that plague both new works and adaptations of Greek myth.
Like many new works, this one is still finding its footing, and has serious issues with pacing. The exposition drags, making the audience wait practically until Act II for any real conflict or dramatic interest. When conflict does come, it winds up feeling inorganic and contrived as characters who appeared to lead blissful lives in the first half of the play monologue about the pain they felt in a past that we, the audience, never saw.
The structure is odd, with the act break coming at a point where the audience, instead of spending the intermission wondering how the characters will solve their dramatic problems, wonders instead what problems there are to solve. Ranging over topics from ancient religion to infidelity to parenting, war, and fame, the play lacks focus and a clear direction that might have mitigated some of these structural problems.
Compounding these characteristic work-in-progress shortcomings, the narrative falls prey to other problems particular to the project of adapting Greek epic: how to blend ancient and modern elements, how to bring modern audiences up to speed with the vast wealth of mythic background information they need to understand the plot, and (in the case of Penelope in particular) how to make the act of waiting dramatically interesting. All of these are an uphill battle, and the only one Maiden Voyage truly succeeds at is the second—and even then only in a clunky way, finally getting the audience to a place of fully understanding the relevant myths by Act II after much convoluted and piecemeal delivery of background information.
As a feminist retelling, the play cherry picks which elements of gender relations to portray using ancient codes and which to apply modern ones to, ultimately creating a critique that doesn’t quite resonate with either ancient or modern treatments of the relations between women and men. And while Penelope’s role as a storyteller is by far the most innovative and interesting thing about Tourino Collinsworth’s reimagining of this story, by making her a writer (modern) rather than a singer (ancient), the playwright sacrifices what little leverage she might have had to create entertaining stage moments that could push back against the inherent boredom of a story about waiting.
All in all, Maiden Voyage has the potential to be a very good play, but it is a potential that has not yet been realized. While the design team and production elements pulled together to create an aesthetically pleasing world (the visual symbolism of literally and figuratively “making one’s bed” underlined by Timothy Firth’s geometric sets and the Greek-modern hybrid costume design by Tamara Somerfield deserve special mention), the core storytelling elements needed to create a truly compelling play were not sufficiently ready for a full production.
Ultimately, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend going to see this world premiere production of Maiden Voyage unless both actors and audience shift their perceptions to treat it as a workshop production instead. However, if her audiences give Tourino Collinsworth honest, constructive feedback as a result of this production and if she is willing to take it, I look forward to seeing the second production of what could someday be a very engaging play.
Maiden Voyage-A Feminist Re-Imagining of the Odyssey Parley Productions at West of Lenin 203 N. 36th St. Seattle 98103. Fremont. Thur-Sat 8 pm. Sun 2 pm. Til June 11 Tickets: http://www.parleyproductions.com Info: www.parleyproductions.com