World Premiere from Adjusted Realists, Opines That We’re Not Necessarily Gone for Good
By: Ellis Nassour
The world premiere from Adjusted Realists of Stephen Kaliski’s The Briefly Dead is a quirky mix of classic and contemporary meant as a sequel to Euripides’ Alcestis. She was the fairest daughter of Pellas, king of Iolcus, and wife of King Admetos. In a bedazzled moment, to show her great love of him, when Death calls, she sacrifices herself in order for him to live. But, Kaliski poses, what happens when a Superman returns her from the Underworld?
Presented by Adjusted Realists, specialists in stories set in slightly unhinged worlds, like their revivals of Nicky Silver’s Pterodactyls and Kaliski’s Glutten! The Briefly Dead fits their mission perfectly.
Kaliski is the resident director of Broadway’s overly-reworked musical adaptation of Brit author Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He also helmed Gluten!, and wrote West Lethargy, published in Plays and Playwrights 2011. He has come up with a clever premise. However, the play is a bit of a roller coaster ride – between Greek tragedy drama and elements of camp and farce with none exquisitely demarcated demanding your rapt attention.
If you like your Greek mythology spiked with spunk and modern twists such as talk of sushi and TV shows, boxed cereals, a pop rendition on guitar [instead of lyre] – not to mention dark, feminist poems of Sylvia Plath, this one’s for you. And there are some nice theatrical touches, such as the use of shadow puppets and wavy moves [choreography?] from a sort of Greek Chorus.
Director and puppet designer Elizabeth Ostler knows how to place her cast around the tiny performance space. The most enjoyable Greek drama touch is a quartet akin to Greek Choruses of yore. They comment on the goings-on with song, dance, even biting comments.
In the prologue, Mia Isabella Aguirre, a hip Amazon, even taller in platform shoes, is our Leader, Death – and she be not proud nor humble. She enters her “ransacked office,” with all manner of “stuff,” including bodies, strewn about to tell how Admetos, portrayed by the hunk a.k.a. Ben Kaufman (a Flea and Horse Trade Theatres regular), is told it’s his time to enter the great beyond. He suggests someone go in his place.
“And guess who volunteered?” Death asks. “His wife, Alcestis! Unbelievable, right? … She wanted OUT.”
Heracles/Hercules, with Paul Hinkes, at 6’8” and quite well-fitted in Gap (maybe), aptly filling the role, sees how devastated Admetos is. He uses one of his labors to bring Alcestis back – thus, voilà!, fulfilling the title. Thus, also, beginning the tale. But is getting your wife back really such a good thing – especially if she’s a powerful and cunning heroine out to settle a score?
Aguirre is a really nice touch, and it would be fun to see more of her.
Greek/American Jenna Zafiropoulos (lead, Paula Vogel’s Desdemona; Marie Curie, Kate Benson’s Radium Now), received her theater arts degree from Deree, the American College of Greece, and is steeped in the lore of Greek tragedy. As Alcestia, she’s outfitted in classic garb, her long hair in a regal braid.
The fun element comes from the game quartet of petite dynamo Sofiya Cheyenne as Phyllis (“a neighbor”), Kristin Fulton as Avra (Admetos’ assistant), Katie Proulx as Zena (Alcestis’s sister), and Sarah Wadsley as Kyra (best friend to Alcestis).
More than anything, The Briefly Dead benefits from an excellent cast. However, in spite of a lengthy rehearsal schedule and fast-paced direction by Ostler, it’s not always easy to make sense of what they’re up to.
Original music is by Steve Smith, with choreography by Proulx.
Photos by Mia Isabella Photography/Brandon Saloy
The Briefly Dead runs through December 10, 2017
Presented by Adjusted Realists company
59E59 Theatre C/Second Floor
Between Madison and Park Avenues
Run time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Tickets are $25, general admission
Purchase at 59E50 box office or at www.59E59.com
Performances are Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30 P.M.; Friday, 8:30; Saturday, 2:30 and 8:30; and Sunday, 3:30
Theatre and restrooms accessible by elevator