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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Reeling From Heartbreak, and Then ‘Penelope’ Showed Up

The New York Times LogoOriginally 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.

Alex Bechtel, center, said it simply seemed right to express Penelope’s isolation and loneliness in a solo piece, which is being directed by Eva Steinmetz, left, and stars Tatiana Wechsler.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

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.”

Read On

Through Sept. 17 at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Garrison, N.Y.
Running time 75 minutes.