Penelope

Queen shares her experience curving simps while her bae is off smashing a nymph!

By Andrew Andrews

Ben Jacoby and Britany Nicole Simpson in The York Theatre Company’s production of the new musical comedy Penelope, Or How the Odyssey Was Really Written by Peter Kellogg and Stephen Weiner at Theatre at St. Jeans on the Upper East Side. Original photos by Carol Rosegg.

Penelope, Queen of Ithaca, and her son Telemachus been waiting twenty years for their adventurous king Odysseus to return home.

A pack of suitors establish themselves as guests who overstay their welcome, trying to convince Penelope that Odysseus will never return, and demanding that she choose one of them as her new king.

“Telly” would love to chase them all away or slay them in the process, but unlike his heroic father, the sight of blood makes the young prince faint.

Instead, Penelope postpones her decision by forging a series of letters from Odysseus, recanting his supposed fantastical escapades and explaining his delay in returning home.

It’s long been hypothesized in some circles that The Odyssey was written by an uncredited woman instead of Homer, and playwright Peter Keller’s new musical comedy postulates that Penelope herself authored the epic tales, before the famous poet got his hands on them and claimed them as his own.

Maria Wirries, Philippe Arroyo, Leah Hocking, Simpson, David LaMarr, Cooper Howell, Sean Thompson, George Slotin and Jason Alexander Simon complete the cast, directed and choreographed by Emily Maltby, with music direction and orchestration by David Hancock Turner.

Penelope, Or How The Odyssey Was Really Written is quite enjoyable… as a “work-in-progress.”

The script does a nice job of making this classic tale palatable to a modern audience, and star Britney Nicole Simpson—whom readers might know from three years with the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival—delivers a Broadway-quality performance throughout.

While some of the songs (such as The Man That I Married, Pigs and Until You Shine) are top-notch, others have more of a “middle school songwriter” feel to either the tune or the lyrics (or often both).

Some of the suitors were portrayed as more likely to court Telemachus than his mother, although there are no character descriptions or stage directions in the book to that effect. I assume this was the choice of director and choreographer Emily Maltby, possibly in an attempt at being campy to drum up a few additional laughs at the expense of authenticity.

My partner enjoyed the performance more than I did, citing Simpson’s performance and a few of the funnier moments as contributing factors.

As for me, the word “polish” comes up repeatedly in Act II, and if the lyrics and direction receive a bit more of it, I think Penelope could become a huge success.

For the time being, I recommend the “cheap seats” in rows “G” and back (which are comfortable and not too far from the stage), with tempered expectations, to maximize the bang-for-your-buck.

3

Andrew Andrews attended Penelope at Theater at St. Jean’s in Manhattan on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 @ 7:00pm to write this review.