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Critically acclaimed comedy celebrates female athletes

'Athena' opens Friday at Pendragon Theatre

Actors Cammie Marshall, left, and Rachel Kemp star as highly competitive teen fencers in the critically acclaimed comedic play “Athena,” which opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake, with an opening night reception following the show. (Photo provided —Burdette Parks)

SARANAC LAKE — “Athena,” the critically acclaimed comedy by Gracie Gardner, opens at Pendragon Theatre this Friday, Sept. 20 at 7:30 p.m. The play runs through Oct. 27, and is touring the North Country throughout the fall.

“Athena,” directed by the theatre’s artistic director Kimberley Bouchard and featuring Rachel Kemp and Cammie Marshall, is a coming-of-age comedy about the rivalry and friendship of two teenage athletes. Protagonists Mary Wallace and Athena are brave, and seventeen, and fencers, and training for the Junior Olympics. They practice together, they compete against each other, they spend their lives together, and they wish they were friends.

First performed in 2018, “Athena” is a New York Times Critic’s Pick: “A deadly serious comedy about ambition, success and owning your superiority. In it’s delicate ferocity, it shows a playwright who is full throttle funny and wise beyond her years.” The play is deemed “wily and entertaining” by the Village Voice.

According to Bouchard, she was first attracted to the play by the title, Athena.

“Athena is one of the goddesses I have been fascinated by since I was a child. Born from the head of a male-god, she is the goddess of War and Wisdom and the Arts. What a superwoman,” Bouchard said. “After reading the play “Athena,” I was enthralled by the story of these two young women athletes as they discover their power, their strength and their vulnerabilities. As a young woman growing up before Title IX, I was an athlete with few opportunities to engage in competitive sports. During high school, I took up fencing at the local college with a girlfriend who felt the same lack in her life. Fencing was our outlet for a yearning we had to be capable, strong and legitimately competitive. We loved it.”

Bouchard continues, “With the tremendous and beautiful competitive spirit of the Women’s World Cup Football this summer, I felt that bringing this play that celebrates and humanizes young women athletes to the Pendragon stage was a very fitting choice for our Fall Play and for the touring show to schools.”

Actors Rachel Kemp and Cammie Marshall play highly competitive teen fencers and have been training to fence for the roles with champion fencer Viveka Fox. Fox is head coach of the Vermont Fencing Alliance, a former all-Ivy fencer and North Atlantic women’s foil champion and, in 2019, qualified to represent the US in age 50-60 women’s foil at Veteran World Championships for the second time.

According to Kemp, who plays the title role in Athena, “Learning to fence has been so much fun and challenging. Working with Viveka Fox has been great. We’ve had a unique challenge in choreographing the fights because we’ve had to work backwards. We know who is supposed to score a point when, so it’s been a matter of silent communication to signal when that person is ready to hit, and when the other person is ready to be hit. As a dancer, I’ve appreciated that fencing takes quick footwork and a lot of lunging. Our thighs were sore for days!”

The production is available for touring to schools and communities through Nov. 1. Pendragon received a grant from the Lake Placid Education Foundation that allows the theater to offer the play to schools at a discounted rate. More information on touring can be found by contacting info@pendragontheatre.org or calling 518-891-1854.

Athena is playing at Pendragon Sept. 20 and 21, and Oct. 18, 19, 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m.; as well as Sept. 29 and Oct. 20 and 27 at 2 p.m. with “Talk Backs” following the matinee performances. There will be an opening night reception after the Friday, Sept. 20 show. Admission for these public performances are $20 for adults and $10 for audience members under 20 years old. Tickets and more information is available at www.pendraogntheatre.org or by calling 518-891-1854. Pendragon Theatre is located at 15 Brandy Brook Ave.