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'Alcestis' impresses at Boston Court Performing Arts Center

July 05, 2013|By David C. Nichols
  • Kalean Ung and Jeremy Shranko in "Alcestis."
Kalean Ung and Jeremy Shranko in "Alcestis." (Ed Krieger )

The ancient Greek myth about Alcestis and her self-sacrifice for her spouse has seen countless versions over the centuries, from Euripides and John Milton to Handel, Gluck and Thornton Wilder.

It receives a tart postmodern spin in “Alcestis” at Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena.

A co-production with the Theatre@Boston Court, this striking deconstruction by Critical Mass Performance Group deploys vintage physical-theater techniques under writer-director Nancy Keystone’s shrewd eye.

Projected at the outset: “How do you live with the fact of your death every moment of every day?” The ensemble answers the question while playing cat’s cradle string games and launching a spoken fugue that zigzags between grave and sardonic, leading to the titular heroine (Kalean Ung) and husband Admetus (Jeremy Shranko) sitting at the breakfast table.

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Alcestis, having offered to die in Admetus’ place, waxes elegiac, while Admetus is beside himself, as their twin monologues reveal. A synoptic mélange of pure kinetic and verbal expression follows.

The austere — almost too austere — staging benefits from designer Adam Frank’s lighting, Sarah Brown’s costumes and Randall Tico’s compositions and sound. Standout sequences include Alcestis’ yielding to Death (Russell Edge), Admetus’ clash with his mother (Valerie Spencer) and the heavy-metal outburst by Herakles (Nick Santoro), with the round-robin funeral segment and climactic coup involving the Fates easily worth admission.

So are the players, who bring zesty cohesion to their variegated duties. Ray Ford, Lorne Green and Danielle Jones complete a stalwart troupe.

However, their festival-ready work doesn't always mesh the piece's narrative and thematic aims. The copious references, self-comment and abstractions hinder emotional connection as often as support it. Nonetheless, as theatrical exercises go, “Alcestis” is certainly impressive.

“Alcestis,” Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 North Mentor Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Dark July 4. Ends July 28. $34. (626) 683-6883. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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