It would have helped had this entire title been used on the printed program. All we got was The Briefly Dead. ‘Could’ve been a piece about vampires or zombies. In fact, the play contemporizes Euripides’ Greek tragedy.
Briefly, King Admetos’ number is up. (Originally Ademetus.) As he was hospitable to Apollo during the latter’s exile, the god convinces his peers to allow the king to live if someone takes his place. Admetos’ wife, Alcestis, volunteers in order not to leave her children fatherless. She dies. Heracles comes to visit the king, learns of this, enters Hades, battles death, and returns with his friend’s wife.
In this version, escaping in haste, Heracles (Paul Hinkes) leaves behind Alcestis’ memories and soul (a trunk), as well as a piece of his own (an empty picture frame). Death is pissed off. (A hammy, abrasive Mia Isabella Aguirre, who doesn’t seem to have made a single decision about her character.) “Here’s the thing, folks. It works in two parts. Part one: I give you everything. The whole shebang. The kitchen sink. You could call it your life, for lack of a better term. Part two: When your time’s up, you give your life back. Ouila! No money, no red tape, just a simple gentleman’s agreement.”
She is, by the way, God’s boss, an interesting concept. (He’s a disembodied voice.) Ademetus (Ben Kaufman) gets back the shell of Alcestis (Jenna Zafriropoulos), but not the woman he loved. Both are uncomfortable. (Heracles seems blithely ignorant without his underpinnings.)
Three women attend Alcestis: her sister, Zena (Katie Proloux), friend Phyllis (Sodiya Cheyenne), and bestie, empty-headed Kyra (Sarah Wadsley). All the actresses deserve better roles. Also in the household are the queen’s two children (manifest by ersatz Balinese shadow puppets) and the king’s assistant, Avra (a very good Kristin Fulton), who is probably having an affair with him.
Mia Isabella Aguirre and Ben Kaufman
There’s unexplained insurrection at the gate and Death is vengeful. What happens to the household with Alcestis like the Scarecrow before Oz? What happens when her trunk is retrieved and normal doesn’t feel right?
Not a bad premise for a play, even in uber-colloquial syntax. This particular piece of writing, however, with syntax a bit too broad to begin with, is massacred by Director Elizabeth Oster. There’s lots of needless screaming and shouting. Narrative line is shredded by too many brief scenes emphatically separated by lights and music. Poorly executed rock numbers seem stuck in without rhyme or reason. (Thanks to Katie Proulx, the ladies’ choreography is appealing during one, however.) Children’s voices are appallingly cartoonish. The death squad does and says nothing.
Constantly jolted, we frankly wouldn’t care at all were it not for the singular performance of Jenna Zafiropolous. The actress looks just right when feeling unfamiliar with everything and, in contrast, fully comes to fore after soul and memories return. Vapid sweetness turns to a woman taking a stand with credibility and purpose.
Minimal Set by Kyu Shin works well enough to help tell us where we are in this pinball jerking landscape.
Costumes by Peri Grabin Leong appear to be whatever came out of each actors’ closet. (Even street clothes need thought on stage.) Alcestis, the only one in period Greek costume, looks swell, the Death Squad is imaginatively attired, gold leaves in the court ladies’ hair is an effective touch.
Photos by Mia Isabella Photography/Brandon Saloy
Opening: Paul Hinkes, Jenna Zafiropoulos, Sarah Wadsley, and Kristin Fulton
Adjusted Realists present
The Briefly Dead by Stephen Kaliski
Directed by Elizabeth Ostler
Through December 10, 2017
59 East 59th Street