Of the many sly riffs percolating in Penelope, Irish playwright Enda Walsh's wickedly virtuosic and lacerating 2010 allegory about the end of civilization as we've known it, the most inspired may be its mock-Homeric framing device.
Four gone-to-seed men (flawlessly performed by Ron Bottitta, Richard Fancy, Brian Letscher and Scott Sheldon), indecently dressed in little more than Speedos, engage in a strained version of that most masculine of backyard rituals – the barbecue. Only this grilling occurs at the bottom of a dried-up swimming pool at a point when the last sausage has been eaten and long, long after the gas grill has given up the ghost.
They are, Walsh quickly reveals, none other than the last men standing in the epic, two-decade competition for the hand – and the kingdom – of Odysseus' legendarily choosy wife (Holly Fulger). Battle would be a better word. Because this company's cutthroat camaraderie has already claimed the lives of a hundred other rivals, and in spite of the consensus that only cooperation will stave off final annihilation, more blood will be spilled.
Director John Perrin Flynn's exquisitely phantasmagoric staging (featuring Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's masterfully decrepit set and Lauren Tyler's vibrantly imaginative costumes) proves the perfect vehicle for Walsh's poetically charged, comic indictment of the something-for-nothing gene driving humankind's will to self-extermination.
Rogue Machine, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Mid-Wilshire; through Aug. 10. (855) 585-5185, roguemachinetheatre.com.
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Facebook and Twitter: