Play presents female perspective of life and marriage

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Citadel's The Penelopiad features all-female cast

After criss-crossing the Atlantic Ocean several times developing a bicoastal career, Sarah Machin-Gale is refocusing her acting career.

The former St. Albert resident has returned from her Toronto-based home to perform in the Citadel’s new production of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, running March 30 to April 21 at the Citadel Theatre.

One of the perks of this production was that the 13-member all-female cast spent five weeks training at the Banff Centre along with director Brenda Bazinet, choreographer Dayna Tekatch and designer Bretta Gerecke.

“Those five weeks at Banff were an opportunity to assess where you are coming from and where you are going,” said Machin-Gale in a quick telephone interview between rehearsals at the Citadel.

“Continuing professional development is so important for actors. We spend so much time getting a job, this is a chance to stand still and breathe,” she said.

Not that the intensive was a cakewalk. The cast was constantly on the go, taking master classes in voice, singing, scene study, dance and movement, text analysis, choral speaking and fight combat – an art female thespians rarely use.

As a teenager, the five-foot 10-inch actress began her stage career as a dancer at the Alberta Ballet School. But she was too tall for the classical world and switched streams to acting.

After graduating with a bachelor of fine arts acting degree from the University of Alberta, Machin-Gale headed to London, England and honed her techniques in both acting and dance.

Now at the height of her career, Machin-Gale has performed in such varied shows as Calendar Girls, Frankenstein, Romeo and Juliet and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood’s retelling of the classic Greek tragedy of Homer’s Odyssey, is a different hued bird altogether.

Atwood tells the story from the female perspective of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife. Penelope reminisces about life in Hades, events from The Odyssey and the relationships with her parents.

A chorus of 12 maids surrounds Penelope and supports her while Odysseus is away at war. After the Trojan War is ended, Odysseus is believed lost at sea and numerous suitors press Penelope to marry.

Although she puts them off, rumours fly that she and the maids are sleeping with them. When Odysseus returns home in disguise, he believes the rumours are true. In revenge he murders the suitors and her 12 handmaidens without Penelope’s knowledge.

“It’s a play that is very fluid and we play multiple characters,” said Machin-Gale, who plays many roles as a maid, a duck and a suitor.

As a maid Machin-Gale will be costumed in a soft, gauzy tunic while as a suitor, she’ll be carrying a short, stylistic sword made of wood for a fight scene.

“The fight scenes are like a dance, a beautiful dance that you add layers of intensity and danger.”

Although the fight scenes are a lot of fun, Machin-Gale believes Atwood had a serious message.

“She’s trying to give women who are not heard a voice. We see it historically and in our own times. Every day you hear about women being attacked. India is the latest example. You look around and even in our own country, some women don’t have the right to speak.”

Preview

Penelopiad
March 30 to April 21
Citadel Theatre
9828 – 101A Ave
Tickets: Start at $35. Call 780-425-1820 or online at www.citadeltheatre.com

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About Author

Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.