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'Alcestis' is haunting and funny

Production combines old and new ideas of mortality.

July 05, 2013|By Lynne Heffley
  • Russell Edge and Kalean Ung in "Alcestis" at Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena.
Russell Edge and Kalean Ung in "Alcestis"… (Courtesy of Theatre…)

Mortality: the inexorable reality of life and the unsettling theme of Critical Mass Performance Group's movement-based and myth-inspired new theater piece, "Alcestis," at Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena.

Deeply researched, based on multiple translations of the Euripides classic about a wife who saves her husband's life by offering to die in his place, and on other related works by contemporary writers, this substantive, arrestingly physical new piece opens with a stark question projected onto a plain backdrop: "How do you live with the fact of your death every moment of every day?"

Answers come quickly from the impressive eight-member ensemble (Russell Edge, Ray Ford, Lorne Green, Danielle Jones, Nick Santoro, Jeremy Shranko, Valerie Spencer, Kalean Ung) facing the audience in a downstage line-up. We live, they say, with the daily fact of our inevitable death by reading a book, doing the dishes, watching TV, falling in love, getting married, having children — in essence, they are saying, we live by ignoring our mortality through the self-protective denial inherent in our own day-to-day definitions of reality.

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But ignoring death is not an option in this disturbing yet often funny piece, created by Critical Mass founder and artistic director Nancy Keystone in collaboration with her ensemble, as a co-production with Boston Court.

After their introductory recitation, the performers seamlessly assume individual roles on a nearly bare stage as Queen Alcestis (Ung) and King Admetus (Shranko) sit at breakfast in their bathrobes reading their respective newspapers.

It has been two years since Alcestis volunteered to save her husband from his then-imminent demise by sacrificing her own life, thus fulfilling the terms of an agreement struck by the god Apollo with the Fates. But Alcestis' death has been slow in coming and the strain on the couple is showing.

"I didn't agree to die so I'd feel good about myself …I don't think," Alcestis tells the audience, after Admetus' own explanatory aside: he was unknowingly carousing with the three Fates at a party, choked on wine and would have died but for Apollo's intervention. "But not dying kind of ruined the moment," she says.

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