This evening we saw a brilliantly staged production of Euripides's Alcestis at the Naumberg Bandshell in Central Park, courtesy of the American Thymele Theatre as part of the theatre's New York Euripedes Summer Festival.
We got there slightly late, as a member of the company was giving a plot summary for the large crowd that gathered in front of the bandshell, sitting in their own law chairs, on the ground (like us), or on nearby benches. The sound system was excellent, and the actors' voice were always clear and distinct.
We'd never read Alcestis but were impressed with the simplicity of the translation. No one in the audience seemed to have the slightest trouble understanding everything onstage.
There were several children sitting around us, and seemed to understand what was going on - though we wondered how a kid would react to a play that deals so bluntly with the death of a young mother when the queen, Alcestis, agrees to die herself in place of her husband Admetus, condemned to an early death by the gods but given the option for someone to die in his stead.
Much of the play was filled with pathos, and we were in tears when the very young actor playing the queen's son reacted upon the death of his mother in front of his eyes. Unfortunately, we didn't get a program and so know only that the cast included Paul Mischeshin, Frederick Mayer, Goran Ivanovski, Vasile Flutur, Michael Honda, Perri Yaniv, Julian M. Sapala, Steven Unger, Jessica Levesque, Christopher Ryan, Denise Fiore, Emilly Medina, Harry Oram, Zenon Zeleniuch, Luke Vedder and Anthony Michael Stokes.
All were excellently directed by Lorca Peress, but standouts in the cast included the actors playing Alcestis, Admetus, their son and two of their servants, Pheres and the king's friend and houseguest, the flawed superhero Heracles.
The actors wore stylized Greek masks, and the six-member chorus was uninformly excellent.
As John Wilson wrote on his book on Alcestis criticism, the play raises many questions:
Who is the main character, Alcestis or Admetus? And through whose eyes are we to see this wife and this husband? Is Alcestis as noble as she says she is? And is Admetus worthy of her devotion, or does he deserve all the blame his father, Pheres heaps upon him? And is the salvation of Alcestis a true mystery, a sardonic ‘and so they lived happily ever after’ or simply the convenient end of an entertainment?
Kostas Kouris's original music was perfect for the production, the odd ancient Greek tragedy with a happy ending. The night was surprisingly comfortable, not hot at all, with a pleasant breeze in a beautiful setting.
It really was a terrific production of Euripides's play, and Central Park never seemed more Dionysian as we walked through it on our way to the subway back to Brooklyn.
We're grateful to the American Thymele Theatre for their presentation, which also can be seen indoors at the Lee Strasberg Institute's Marilyn Monroe Theatre tomorrow and Saturday.