An adaptation for the stage of The Odyssey Books XXII-XXIII
Penelope in a chair centered on a blank stage. She acts as though she were seated at a loom, moving her hands and feet as though she were weaving. She weaves for a bit, then begins.
Weaving, a web, I tell them. Like a spider, twisting and turning and spinning up a big mess and, and I AM TRYING YOU KNOW so, so I am, I'm working, I'm slaving away here, I'm not having a good time here, I'm blowing men off here, I'm telling them I love you here, you should, you should tell me you love me back, because, because I get lonely here, and, and because, because I miss, seeing you, I
I can't weave forever, you know
Or I can, or I guess. I can try.
But come back! before I waste away, before
My skin is beginning to wrinkle, you know
My hair is turning gray, my eyes are growing duller, my cheeks are not so rosy and puffy and-
Will you love that?
Sometimes I just look at the heavens and pray, for you, down on my knees
She stops weaving.
I lose my pride then, offer them my beauty, my speech, I offer them everything.
Do you pray like that ever?
Do you pray?
Can you pray?
Are you alive?
I'm tired, I- there's no resting on this, this web, the way things are. I can't, or I will, I, I.
I mean, I was always religious, and, I always, I wasn't embarrassed, I had no pride when it came to the gods, I–
I need them now. I know that now I need them, and you. You slip away, sometimes, and I, I remember, them, little soundbites, things you said, and I have to, I say you love me for you.
And I hate that. I, I'm faithful. It's you. You are me, I, I can't think of words more fitting so if you'll excuse, me, I belong to you. Not, not property, I, our souls, I
She gets down off the chair and kneels on the ground.
I want you to hold me when I die. I used to dream about us dying together, lying, sitting in our courtyard, maybe grass, empty, holding, holding each other the way we do, not, not with you holding me, or me holding you, holding, that feeling of holding together, and you'd peck me on the cheek, like, like you did that one time, remember, at the festival, and then. And then we both just, just die, there.
Don't be dead.
Come back and swoop me off my feet, and you will, and you'll look at me, and I'll, I'll run, and you'll run too, and you'll emerge at the doorway, right, right there, and I'll be over, over at the other side, and, and I'll sense you, I'll, your presence, and then we just, we soar at each other, running, but like, we're air then, and we just, we collide and embrace, and
And then we don't let go.
A beat. Calms down a bit.
She gets back up and into her chair, prepares to begin weaving again.
Twenty years grow long, love.
Soon, though. You'll be soon.
From the two downstage entrances, around twenty or so suitors emerge, lip-syncing loud, obnoxious blabber. They stand in two columns, one on each edge of the stage. Penelope brings her chair back up the middle aisle and exits.
Each of the columns splits in two, putting the men into four columns. The men in the two columns on the stage left side and the men in the two columns on the stage right side turn to face the men in the other column on their respective side. They sit, creating the effect of being seated at two long tables going in the upstage-downstage direction. They continue miming conversation, and begin to mime eating. They are having a ball.
Odysseus enters upstage. Bow and sword in his belt, ready for battle. (These, like all other weapons in the show, are to be created through mimed action – no weapon props!) All the suitors sit and stare, then one gets up to challenge him. He walks into the center aisle as all focus their attention on the dual. Odysseus draws his bow, the man throws his glass at him, Odysseus dodges, and shoots him. The man falls to his death.
The suitors gape, in shock. Odysseus signals a challenge, and then walks down the center aisle as all the men stare. Two begin dragging the body to the side, clearly treating it with care. Once he reaches the body, he kicks it. At this point, all hell breaks loose. The men all draw their weapons and begin fighting Odysseus. Two more men enter from upstage and begin fighting on Odysseus' side. The stage is now chaos with fighting men. At times, men fall to their deaths. Some men are wounded, and walk to the side of the stage in defeat.
Penelope emerges from the upstage entrance. The fighting men continue but in slow-motion, and open a column down the middle of the stage. Penelope, as she talks, walks slowly forward down this column. When Odysseus talks, he does so from his place in the battle, and although creative lighting of course focuses our attention on him, he and the others continue fighting as though no change occurred.
While they do alternate speaking, they speak their thoughts; they are not conversing.
You. You return. You're back. I guess your, your strength hasn't failed you
(laughs softly to self)
I remember once, you kissed my knuckles, on my fingers, and then, then you put my fingers in your mouth, by the knuckles, the middle knuckles. And I kept laughing, happy, and I asked you if you thought my knuckles were bony, and you looked at me, and you thought for a second, because, because they are bony, and you said "no," and you put them back in, and – in your mouth, did they taste bony?
You're a war now, and I have to win you. Butchered heads, muscles spattered over the floor, blood splurting, showering, blood in my eyes so I can barely see sometimes. This isn't beautiful, this isn't pure, love, love isn't blood and guts, and entrails, spilled waste, body meat. Love is, love is speaking in whispers, close together, love is warm, but not warm like blood is warm, love is, it's, it's our body accepting another, not clinking and clashing, it's that melting feeling,
(at same time as Penelope says "I want back my")
I want back my warm feeling inside, when I want to hug myself when I can't hug you, and when I want to hug my heart, like, like this
(mimes as she describes)
and I start rocking myself back and forth and go into this hazy daze of, of total abandon, and all there is is, is. Is you.
But here you are, you're you, I know your you, but, you're angry, and you're growling, and your swearing at men and you've got this fire in you, this fire that I know you never had with me, we were
(at same time as Odysseus says "children")
Children, why do I feel like we were children back then, before Troy. Like life hadn't had its trials, like we could still laugh at what was funny, and that we could laugh at what was sad, because it wasn't sad to us yet. And we weren't some, some little, we were, it was love! Why are you a pile of guts, a bunch of men in search of empty pleasure?
I, I, I never loved them. I loved you, but, but I was young. My head, my head could go now, at any second I could be just another head lying on your floor, my floor. This is my home. Why am I a foreigner.
Would you recognize me? If I was just a head lying, rolling, on your floor? Would you cry?
Would you mean them?
You live, and I guess, well
Thank you, Athena, Zeus, for protecting you, him. And it is him, and it is what I've prayed for, but I guess, thank you. No, thank you gods. You have been more generous than any ignorant woman like me would deserve.
No one speaks. The fighting continues. Penelope stares at the ground. After a bit, she begins again.
I suppose, I suppose you, I, I'm not as you expected, home isn't as you'd hoped. With these, these men, here. I'm sorry.
These men, here, did you ever oblige them? Ever take one into your bed and let him have it, showed him you, your, the way you always, the way you close your eyes, and you sigh wistfully. They didn't, you know, the others. I never loved them, I made love to them yes, as I had to. To save myself! For you! Stop, accusatory! I, I love you! Twenty years I twisted and turned to come to you!
Twenty years of the loom. Weaving, weaving, weaving
(continues saying a couple times after he begins)
Twenty years of shipwrecks, swimming through the sea, pleading for my life, thanking the gods for each breath
Slowly, the suitors are dying off. It is becoming clear Odysseus is winning.
Brushing them off, embarrassed, shamed, called whore, pushed, dry, waiting
For this, for this I didn't blind a cyclops, escape the Sirens, the Hydra, for this unglamorous, this criminal's welcome
And you, you come to defend me! My hero, my champion! I am grateful, no I am! But why, so, so without, without love? With romantic notions but no romance, do I still love you, did I ever?
Was love something we created for ourselves? A fantasy of youth, like stability?
Did you mean the things you told me?
Am I killing, slaughtering these men, these reckless, ruthless, useless men yes, but men, am I slaughtering them on some silliness, some-
Is this some channeling of male aggression?
Some attempt to be heroic, romantic
So much blood how can I think of loving you?
Odysseus slays his last man.
My hero. You've won me.
Claim your prize.
The two men helping Odysseus bring from the upstage exit a bed. They push it downstage to where Penelope and Odysseus are standing (separate).
Odysseus and Penelope get in and appear to look at each other for the first time, confused. Odysseus looks at Penelope. Penelope looks out.
An awkward silence.
So it's you. It really is you.
I've told you the story of the bed, you've seen my scar – what else do you–
No, I know. It's you.
(she begins tearing up)
I, I've missed you.
Oh I've missed you too.
They embrace. A bit forced. Then, a beat.
Remember that day you put my fingers in your mouth? At the festival?
I, yes. I do remember it.
A long beat.
Did my fingers taste bony in your mouth?
I, I, I just don't remember.
(pauses, then nods)
They lie in bed, looking at each other, looking out.
Age 15, Grade 10,
Stuyvesant High School