To die for

To die for

‘Alcestis’ at Boston Court asks an ages old question

By Jana J. Monji 07/03/2013

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As part of the romantic blather brought on by the raging hormonal bliss called love, one might blithely declare to his or her beloved, “I’d die for you.” But would they really?  

In Nancy Keystone’s deconstruction of the Euripides play, “Alcestis,” the repercussions of a wife who volunteers to meet death’s embrace so that her husband might live are examined in this Critical Mass Performance Group and Boston Court world premiere joint production at The Theatre@Boston Court.

If you aren’t up on your Greek mythology, Alcestis was a princess married to King Admetus. When Apollo learns that the Fates have given Admetus a short life, he intercedes by convincing the drunken Fates to allow the king to live if someone volunteers to take his place. When Admetus’ elderly parents decline the honor, Alcestis steps forward. Yet Admetus and Alcestis aren’t parted by death because Admetus’ friend Herakles brings Alcestis back from the dead.

Keystone’s work begins with eight people on stage — three women and five men playing cat’s cradle with a piece of string. Against a backdrop behind them, a sentence appears: “How to you live with the fact of your death every moment of every day?” The eight each, in turn, interject what they might do. Plant a garden, says one. Watch YouTube, says another. They are all dressed in black except for one woman, Alcestis (Kalean Ung), who wears an off-white nightgown.

Eventually, Alcestis puts a robe over her gown and joins the only bare-chested man, Admetus (Jeremy Shranko), at a small table, drinking from coffee mugs and reading a newspaper. The scene is both modern and dated. Sure, some people still read morning newspapers, but many others now get their news electronically.  

Dressed in a white suit and wearing a gold crown of leaves, Apollo (Lorne Green) joins the pair. Not far behind is Death (Russell Edge), clad in a dark gray suit with black shirt and tie. He acts as more of an impatient bridegroom than a cold and impartial ruler of the afterworld. For Alcestis, he’s a lord whose embrace will be horizontal and carnal. She dies, but Herakles (Nick Santoro) comes to save the day. This isn’t the wise, patient and thoughtful Hercules of the Kevin Sorbo TV series. Santoro’s Herakles wears a red and black kilt and football shoulder pads. He’s a good-hearted, dangerously impatient yet delightfully slow-witted lunk. Herakles has some of the best lines and adds comic relief to this contemplation of death and love.

As director, Keystone could tighten the pace of this 90-minute production. If you’re looking for a traditional Greek tragedy or an easy substitute for actually reading the Euripides story, this production won’t be a good fit. Instead of straightforward storytelling, the action is broken up into segments of a Greek chorus answering questions, expressive dance or repetitive movements, mundane moments of daily life enacted and actors breaking the fourth wall.

Keystone’s deconstruction of the Euripides play adds social commentary and mixes modern cultural references and pointed questions about love, family, death and dying with the complicated genealogy of this tale. Apollo, Alcestis and Herakles come from distinctly dysfunctional families, but the program notes and script’s exposition will bring you up to speed. All in all, the production is amusingly thought-provoking.

“Alcestis” continues through July 28 at The Theatre@Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $29 to $34.  Call (626) 683-6883 or visit bostoncourt.com.

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