It was another April night, one year ago, when New Music Raleigh intrepidly presented composer Sarah Kirkland Snyder and lyricist Ellen McLaughlin's Penelope to a capacity crowd at Kings Barcade. If you were there, you'll probably remember the broad range of ambient shadings, urban dissonances, proto-jazz latticework and occasional medieval funk from the orchestra that jammed the stage—but may have tried to forget the on-again, off-again vocals that night from Shara Worden, who recorded the critically acclaimed CD of the work with New York's Ensemble Signal in 2010.
Before it was expanded into the song-cycle we heard last April, Penelope was originally written as a music theater work for a solo actor, a variation on the Odyssey, in which the title character, our narrator, receives an unexpected guest one day: her husband, who's been missing for 20 years after going off to serve in an unnamed war. With his memory a blank, the vocalist begins to read to him from Homer. As she does, that narrative begins to help him reconstruct his own.
McLaughlin presented Penelope in various workshop readings in New York and California from 2008–10. This week, PlayMakers Rep's PRC2 series presents what it's calling the world premiere of the work through Sunday. The theater is giving active military personnel two free tickets; for civilians, it's $10–$35. Performances are 7:30 nightly, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday. —Byron Woods