SYNOPSIS: A Survivor’s Odyssey: The Journey of Penelope and Circe

[The story of Penelope and Circe alternates between the myths of their relationships with Odysseus in The Odyssey and present day reality of living in pandemic times, exploring what this means for those who face sexual violence.]

World premiere virtual opera – September 24, 26 & 28. Get your tickets now! 

Act 1 Circe Kills Her Husband

Scene 1 At A Get Together with Friends

Circe, Penelope, Jan and Mark are friends who met each other in a support group for survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence. During the pandemic, they meet regularly over zoom to check in on each other. The pandemic is taking its toll. Penelope is worried that her husband may come back at any time; Circe tells her to shut down her computer as soon as she hears him come in. Circe tells them that her son, Telegonus, is demanding to know who his father is. She is worried that if she tells him the truth, he will never feel the same about her again.

Scene 2 Circe’s Flashback – In Helios’ Garden in Ancient Times

Circe is kneeling over the body of her husband. She is holding a bloody knife. Her father, Helios, the Sun God, enters. Circe tells him that her husband beat her again and she killed him in self defense. Helios banishes her to the island of Aeaea.

Scene 3 With Friends

Circe tells her friends that she served ten years of a twenty-year sentence for killing her husband. Her father testified against her.

Act 2 Penelope Waits for Odysseus to Come Home – At Odysseus and Penelope’s House in Ancient Greece

Scene 1 With Friends

Penelope confides that she cannot leave the house. Her husband has forbidden her to. She’s also waiting for her son, Telemachus, who has been banished by Odysseus, to call. She weaves a shroud.

Scene 2 Penelope’s Flashback – At Odysseus and Penelope’s House in Ancient Greece

Penelope is surrounded by suitors as she weaves a shroud. She tells them that she will pick one of them as her husband when she’s finished her weaving. When night falls and the suitors are asleep, Penelope unravels her work.

Scene 3 With Friends

Jan watches Penelope unravel the shroud she has been weaving; he asks her what she is doing. Penelope startles as she realizes what she’s done. She feels herself unravelling and breaks down.

Act 3 Circe’s Rape

Scene 1 With Friends

Telegonus is sixteen today. He wants to know who his father is. Circe cannot face telling him. Her friends counsel her to just tell him – “Tell him you killed his father.” Circe responds, “That’s the problem, isn’t it? I didn’t kill his father.”

Scene 2 Circe’s Flashback – In Circe’s Home on Aeaea

Two of Odysseus’ men arrive on Aeaea and enter Circe’s home. They try to assault her. She turns them into pigs. Odysseus arrives looking for his men. He has been forewarned about Circe’s powers. He drugs her with a potion and rapes her.

Act 4 Woman Talk

Scene 1 With Friends

Penelope and Circe share their experiences about men. They muse about how men have come to dominate the world and how they can reclaim their lives.

Act 5 Odysseus Returns Home

Scene 1 With Friends

Penelope reports that she is making progress – she did not unravel her weaving last night. She misses her son, Telemachus, whom she has not seen for a year. Odysseus banished their son because of the prophecy that his death will come at the hands of his son. Penelope suddenly shuts down her computer. Odysseus is back.

Scene 2 Penelope’s Flashback – At Odysseus and Penelope’s House in Ancient Greece

Odysseus arrives home after 20 years disguised as a beggar. Penelope does not recognize him. He boasts of his travels and his conquests. When he sees her suitors, he is enraged and kills them all.

Act 6 Circe Tells Telegonus Her Secret

Scene 1 With Friends

Penelope’s friends are concerned about her safety. Circe confirms she texted Penelope and that she’s alright.

Scene 2 Circe’s Flashback – At Circe’s home on Aeaea

Circe is no longer able to keep the truth from her son, Telegonus. Filled with apprehension, she tells him about her encounter with Odysseus. Instead of rejecting her, Telegonus embraces her. Despite Circe’s entreaties, Telegonus determines to seek out his father. To protect him, Circe gives him a spear made with the barb of the first sting ray he speared.

Act 7 Telegonus and Odysseus Meet

Scene 1 With Friends

Penelope tells her friends that Odysseus is passed out, drunk. It’s her chance to escape. Suddenly, there’s a commotion outside her front door. They hear a voice calling, “Father, where are you?” Odysseus staggers up. He snatches a knife believing it’s Telemachus come to kill him to fulfill the prophecy.  He goes out to meet him.

Scene 2 Flashback – Outside Odysseus and Penelope’s House in Ancient Greece

Telegonus is pacing about as Odysseus rushes out brandishing his sword. Telegonus defends himself and stabs Odysseus with his spear. Odysseus lies dying; he is confused and asks, “You’re not Telemachus, my son?” Telegonus responds, “No, I’m Telegonus, your son, the son of rape.” Odysseus realizes that the prophecy has come to pass: He has been killed by his son.

Act 8 Penelope and Circe Embrace Through Space and Time

Scene 1 With Friends

Penelope tells her friends that her husband has been killed by a young man called Telegonus. Eyewitnesses say it was self defense.  Circe begs for forgiveness as she realizes that Telegonus has killed her rapist, Penelope’s husband. Penelope too begs for forgiveness for her inability to mourn her husband. The two women realize they’re bound together in space and time by blood and family.  The friends stretch out their hands and reach for each other through their computer screens.

World premiere virtual opera – September 24, 26 & 28. Get your tickets now!