Originally published on September 1, 2023 in The New York Times by
Alex Bechtel’s new musical, sort of “a pandemic parable,” gives voice to a mythical character in “The Odyssey.”
James Ijames’s amusingly cynical and eclectic new play, “The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington,” is at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival through July 30.
The composer and lyricist Alex Bechtel didn’t go looking for Penelope, the mythical character in “The Odyssey” famed for her clever weaving and steadfast endurance of long abandonment.
At a low moment in Bechtel’s romantic life, Penelope came to him, inspiring music that developed into a concept album. A breakup album, really, begun in 2020 during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Bechtel was at home in Philadelphia, far from his partner in Boston, as their relationship fell apart — and as he wondered, with the nation’s stages shuttered, whether he would ever be able to work in theater again.
The music, then, was also fed by what he called his “terror and confusion and grief and longing for this thing that I have chosen to do with my life.”
Through Sept. 17 at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Garrison, N.Y.