Walking into the Forum Theater in the Radio-Television Building, one should let the beauty and the coolness of the fabric-covered set make its full impact. The lights are dim and sophisticated. The structure is reminiscent of the usual Division of Theater set that is multi-leveled and has many entry and exit points — think As You Like It and Rashomon.

Yet, the plot that unfolds on the set doesn’t seem to match its surroundings.

As its second mainstage production of the academic year, the Division of Theater is producing The Penelopiad with an all-female cast for two weeks in the Forum Theater. The play reexamines the classics The Odyssey and The Iliad from the point of view of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife. Instead of following Odysseus through the 10-year Trojan War and his 10-year journey home, the play remains with Penelope on Ithaca as she attempts to deal with her rebellious son Telemachus, the absence of her husband, her 12 maids and the aggressive potential suitors who wish to take place of Odysseus.

Playwright Margaret Atwood does a splendid job contemporizing the subject material and making Penelope’s new-found perspective relevant. David Haugen’s Ohio University production of the play, however, muddles it with too many elements.

The set is akin to something one would see in a traditional play, but a disconnect occurs between it and the content of the play as the actors take a selfie, throw fake babies around or just shout out funny quips at random. It doesn’t seem to fit the world of the play. The disconnect between the serious tone of the set and the often lighthearted dialogue needs the most fixing. The content and delivery are good, but it doesn’t fit with the visual presentation of Penelope’s world.

It can also be hard to go back to the quips after watching a powerful, emotional and raw scene in which Penelope’s potential suitors rape her maids. The entire stage is awash in a red glow, and it was brutal.

Adding to that is the overabundant use of projections on the fabric-covered set. Many are used obviously to depict the specific setting of a scene, but others seem to have been included just because. A woman is shown screaming in the center of the fabrics. Later, the image of Zyrece Montgomery, who plays Telemachus, appears, calling up a likeness to that of Rue in The Hunger Games. Both looked fierce and ready to battle. Fortunately, things work out better for Telemachus.

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The Penelopiad also has a Cirque du Soleil element as several of the maid characters perform in aerial silks toward the end. Those who know the story can easily guess why the maids would need to hang in the air. It’s an incredibly intriguing, original and risky idea to include aerial silks in the show. It’s also quite impressive how well the ensemble handles that duty in what was surely the relatively small amount of time they had to prep for it. The silks are one of the few additions that could remain after editing.

Beyond the aerial silks, the play impressed the audience even further with fabric. To help show that the characters are traveling the sea, Kristin Conrad’s, who plays Penelope’s mother Naiad, dress has an extension on the tail that ends up wrapping around the entire circumference of the Forum Theater stage. It’s jaw-droppingly beautiful and is one of the most memorable moments of the play.

Another surprising but welcomed component of the play is its music — from the original compositions by Dan Dennis to the musical-esque moments in the plot. Music is incorporated from the beginning when the maids walk on stage for the first time and play a sort of hand-slapping game. It then amplifies to an almost On the Town moment as Odysseus and Penelope sail to Ithaca with their crew. The weaving scene in the second act is accompanied by a beautiful melody and is reminiscent of a Ziegfeld revue. The pipes on this all-female cast are impeccable.

In a similar vein to the music, the inclusion of dance and choreography bring the play to a heightened level it would have otherwise not reached. From the actual musical numbers to the simple moments when Odysseus and Penelope are just laying in bed, the choreography really enriches the play by adding an extra level of fluidity to the movements and making the musical numbers not seem as random.

Though the show is all about Penelope, she is the only character that does not stand out. Luli Teruel Gomez plays the title role and unfortunately is not up to par to carry a show just yet. Most of her lines consist of delivering monologues to provide context and narration, and Gomez sank under the weight of its importance. Her delivery was flat, monotone and sometimes even muddled as she tripped over a few words here and there.

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On the other hand, the ensemble made a lasting impression. From the very beginning, they are incredibly in sync, well spoken and much more dynamic. 

The OU Division of Theater has tackled Greek mythology before — the stunning Metamorphoses and the decent Lysistrata — but The Penelopiad is different. It's not meant to be an overly serious production, but its set would say otherwise. The Penelopiad has too many components working within it that hinder it from reaching its true potential.

Rating: 3/5