The play opens with a scene-setting monologue by Apollo (David Daniel). Alcestis (Melisa Pereyea) is within the house, dying. The Fates had decreed that her husband, King Admetos (Marcus Truschinski) must die young. Apollo, who had been sentenced by Zeus (“God” in this text) to serve Admetos for nine years, convinced Fate to accept the death of another in Admetos’ place, in order that the fortunate and beloved King should not die. However, the substitute must volunteer, and be someone from Admetos’ family. His wife, Alcestis, is the only volunteer, and this is the day of her death. Death (Brian Mani) enters, staking his claim to Alcestis and taunting Apollo.
Alcestis expires, to the great grief of Admetos and his household. No sooner does Admetos decree the deepest mourning, when raucous horns are heard off stage, and Heracles bursts in. David Daniel is almost unrecognizable in this role, a dreadlocked biker/wild man, on the way to seize the horses of King Diomedes as one of his Twelve Labors. Heracles is Admetos’ dearest friend, and Admetos cannot bring himself to admit to Heracles that Alcestis is dead, which would cause Heracles to seek hospitality elsewhere. Instead, he tells Heracles that the funerary preparations are for a traveler who died and is being buried out of charity.
At Admetos’ command, Heracles and his squire, Lichas (Tim Gittings) are settled into one wing of the palace, where he proceeds to disgust the servants with his drunkenness and carousing.
Meanwhile, the funeral of Alcestis proceeds. Admetos’ father, Pheres (James Ridge) appears to make an offering, which sparks a bitter argument. This is the most powerful scene of the play as Admetos berates his father for cowardice and selfishness allowing Alcestis to die. Pheres, who had abdicated the throne in favor of Admetos, replies “I gave you your life; nothing requires me to give you mine as well.” The two part in anger, and the funeral procession departs.
As the second act opens, the servants left behind to tend Heracles complain angrily about his gross behavior. Heracles enters, involving everyone in his bawdy story-telling of his adventures. These include his rescue of Prometheus (Brian Mani), which involves a scary/funny turn by Colleen Madden as The Vulture sent to devour Prometheus’ liver.
At last, one of the serving women cracks, and she tells Heracles the truth. Sobered, he is angered that Admetos has lied to him, however well intentioned, and appalled that he has been lulled into behaving dishonorably in a house of mourning. He declares that in order to make amends, he will fight Death himself for the life of Alcestis. Preparing himself for wrestling, he departs.
The funeral ended, Admetos returns home in deepest dejection. Shortly after, a battered Heracles returns, leading a veiled woman. Heracles tells Admetos he has won the woman in a wrestling match, and asks Admetos to care for her while Heracles is about his labors. Admetos wants no new woman in his house, and refuses. Apparently, one of the conditions of Alcestis’ return is that Admetos has to accept her, and Heracles can’t tell her who she is before he does. Anyway, Heracles has a frustrating time until he finally insists that Admetos take her hand and look into her eyes. He then recognizes Alcestis, whom Heracles has won back from Death. Husband and wife are joyfully reunited, and the friends reconciled.
This is a very thought-provoking play, which deals deeply with life, love, and loss. All the Players were excellent in their roles, including Cristina Panfilio as the servant struck with grief at her mistress’ death, and Anne E. Thompson as the servant who is angry and bitter.
The play was done in modern dress, which worked well. Apollo (as “Apollo Physician”) wore a white coat an stethoscope. Death wore a buttoned-up business suit. Prometheus wore a bloodied patient’s gown, and the Vulture surgical scrubs. The set was minimal and gave the impression of a palace still under construction, but worked well.
This was a sometimes harrowing but always satisfying afternoon at the theater, and we were very glad to have attended.
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