Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's recent review of Avaaz

Jessica Phillips
Photo by Daniel Rader
Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus in Homer's epic poem "The Odyssey," has been a symbol of steadfastness and faithfulness for more than two millennia. She waited 20 years for her husband's return, first from the Trojan War and then from his adventures on the voyage home, with no evidence that he was even still alive. She cared for his property, raised their son and, with the help of her servants, restrained a group of suitors determined to marry her (and seize her husband's power). But Homer doesn't consider Penelope's interior life during that time–which is where Penelope comes in.

Jessica Phillips is a magnetic presence at the heart of this rapturous solo musical, now in the ARK Theatre at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. With the assistance of five onstage musicians who also occasionally provide supporting vocals, Penelope finally gets the chance to speak (and sing) for herself.

Alex Bechtel, credited with book, music and lyrics, first took up the story of Penelope and her isolation while quarantining during COVID. Bechtel's collaboration with bookwriters Grace McLean and Eva Steinmetz, also the director, brings the woman to vibrant, three-dimensional life as Penelope sings of her memories, frustrations, determination and resolution.

The ARK is always an intimate space, but Paige Hathaway's scenic design makes it even more so, with seating for fewer than 100 viewers. Phillips and the musicians perform on a small platform stage surrounded by sand, against a backdrop of swelling dunes that takes on texture from Jessie Belsky's elegant use of backlighting; a cluster of hanging lights adds illumination and character.

Phillips commands the stage in an elegant ensemble of wide-legged marine blue pants and a yellow-green blouse, designed by Danielle Preston for both style and ease of movement. She addresses the audience as the confidantes she doesn't have, tossing back whiskey and seeking answers from life rather than constant reassurance that things will turn out all right.

Penelope runs through April 21, 2023, at Signature Theatre, ARK Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington VA. For tickets and information, please call 703-820-9771 or visit

Music and lyrics by Alex Bechtel
Book by Alex Bechtel, Grace McLean and Eva Steinmetz
Based on writings in The Odyssey by Homer
Directed by Eva Steinmetz
Music directed by Ben Moss

Penelope: Jessica Phillips
Piano: Ben Moss
Percussion: Erika Johnson
Violin: Jennifer Rickard
Viola: Imelda
Cello: Susanna Mendlow