Marcus Truschinski and Melisa Pereyra in American Players Theatre's Alcestis
Despite being 2,500 years old, Alcestis fits naturally on the contemporary stage. Themes like love, death, and fate are universal; the story is easy to follow; and director David Frank offers some entertaining twists in an American Players Theatre production of Euripides' classic (through Nov. 9) before stepping out of his role as the Spring Green company's producing artistic director.
This version is not set in ancient Greece, though the time period isn't clear. A few concrete clues point to the late 1960s or early '70s -- a tie-dyed shirt, a snippet of the Neil Diamond song "Sweet Caroline" -- but the majority of costumes and props could easily have been pulled from the '40s or '50s.
Also contributing to a more modern feel is poet Ted Hughes' translation and adaptation of the Greek original. On the page, Hughes' form is familiar to readers of contemporary poetry. The left-aligned, short lines can be read in a single breath: "He rode the dark road/On the thumping of a guitar/A horse of music." Even in the non-serious moments, poetic imagery abounds. "The dung spilled like fermenting glaciers," brags Heracles, played with gusto by David Daniel.
Most of the cast members, including Daniel, take on more than one role, often playing characters that are significantly different from each other. Daniel also plays Apollo. The first character to grace the stage, he's an earnest physician. In this production, Apollo's mythical arrow is replaced by a chrome stethoscope. He feels partly guilty for what's happening as the play begins: Alcestis (Melisa Pereyra), the wife of Admetus (Marcus Truschinski), is dying, and he can't save her.
Daniel's performance as Apollo is strong, offering a compelling start to the play, but it's as Heracles that he's completely unforgettable. Imagine Captain Jack Sparrow with a football player's body, a tie-dyed shirt under a leather jacket, and a Fu Manchu mustache.
Heracles oozes life: He's bawdy and loud, "a guzzler and devourer," and "a wild man of the woods.” He's Admetus' best friend, and when he pops in for a visit, Admetus, in order to be a gracious host, hides the fact that Alcestis has died. While the rest of the house mourns Alcestis, Heracles and his attendant Lichas (Tim Gittings) eat, drink and make wild merriment.
The servants mostly look on in disgust. Cristina Panfilio and Anne E. Thompson are superb in their roles as maidservants -- equally devoted to the mourning of their beloved mistress, but each with distinct personality.
As Alcestis, Pereyra looks the part; her beautiful face is made ugly by the throes of death. In contrast to his wife's out-of-control distress, Truschinski's Admetus is a more sober figure. Admetus' go-to emotion is anger and he's at his most fiery in a scene with his father (James Ridge), hurling insults at him at Alcestis' funeral.
With a run time of more than two hours, Alcestis flies by. When the lights came up at intermission on opening night, I was shocked to find that nearly an hour had passed. The show ended with a standing ovation, and I left APT's Touchstone Theatre feeling entertained. For a play about death, Alcestis is a pleasure to watch.