In the beginning there were 100 suitors vying for the hand of Penelope. But Penelope, the faithful wife of Ulysses, is patiently waiting for her husband to return home after having participated in the Trojan War and ten years of fantastic adventures.
By the time he finally returns, there are only four suitors left, spending their days idling on the floor of her empty swimming pool. They are Quinn (Brian Letscher), a youngish, self-absorbed, and belligerent wastrel; Dunne (Ron Bottitta), an older version of Quinn, who spends his time boasting and preening; Fitz (Richard Fancy), an even older version of both of them, but who has lost his fire; and Burns (Scott Sheldon), who serves as a sort of cabana boy, running and fetching, bringing towels and drinks to the others and absorbing their abuse and insults without responding. It isn’t until the play is nearly over that you realize he is also a suitor.
The play is Penelope by multiple award winner Enda Walsh, presented by the much-celebrated Rogue Machine and directed in its Los Angeles premiere by John Perrin Flynn, Rogue Machine’s founding Artistic Director.
The play consists of monologues and conversation that are mostly scornful of society, politics, and the current state of man. Man goes “out of poverty and into obesity,” Quinn says contemptuously.
Meanwhile, they are devouring and ruminating on the delights of sausages that Burns has prepared on the barbecue. As a non sequitur, all four admit to having had a dream the previous night that the barbecue was on fire.
After much banter, the suitors get down to business: attempting to “seduce” Penelope with a recitation of their outstanding attributes and their suitability to be chosen as her husband.
Dunne, who calls himself a “master scribe”, attempts to woo her with poetry, but keeps getting sidetracked into egotistical expositions of his own worthiness and his masterful (but somewhat pot-bellied) physique. “Do you not see in me Pedigree?” he challenges her.
Noting their common interests and pursuits, he observes that the remaining suitors are “building a company” and comments to Fitz that he should “embrace trust.” The “company” dissolves within minutes, however, as the conversations continue.
“We are the last men,” Quinn says. “We annihilate everything that doesn’t conform to our taste.” He acknowledges that he had killed a man named Murray, who he viewed as competition, and Burns bemoans the loss of his friend and, by implication, lover.
“Hate is our friend,” Quinn notes. “Only a ten-year-old has no burden of the past,” Dunne adds.
Fitz’s soliloquy is a softly mumbled assertion that he is “building a house of nothing” and that “love is to grow from a glorious nothing.”
In the midst of all this, Penelope (Holly Fulger) appears on a balcony and silently watches and listens. She says not a word as the play devolves into violence and chaos. And finally she absents herself to await Ulysses’ arrival.
All of this takes place on a messy and dilapidated set ringed by multiple raggedy curtains prepared by scenic designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz. It is a most unattractive venue to reflect on for 95 minutes. The costumes, by Lauren Tyler, are equally undistinguished. All four men wear only tiny Speedos and occasionally a bathrobe.
In the end, the play itself, which started with so much promise, peters out. In my view, it’s hard to empathize, or even care about, such a group of vacuous losers.
Penelope will run Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 through August 17 at Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Call 855-585-5185 or visit www.roguemachinetheatre.com for tickets.
Photo: Brian Letscher as “Quinn”
Photo by John Flynn