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"The Briefly Dead" Opines That We’re Not Necessarily Gone for Good

Photos by Mia Isabella/Brandon Saloy

Ibsen’s The Doll House isn’t the only classic to be continued. Lucas Hnath’s Doll House Part 2 begins 15 Years after Nora exited the Torvad household. 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 EuripidesAlcestis. 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?

The Briefly Dead is presented by Adjusted Realists (revival of Nicky Silver’s Pterodactyls; Kaliski’s Glutten! at 59E59) specializes in stories set in slightly unhinged worlds. The play fits their mission perfectly.

Kaliski, resident director of Broadway’s overly-reworked musical adaptation of Brit author Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, who also helmed Gluten!, and wrote West Lethargy, published in Plays and Playwrights 2011. In addition, he’s a public speaking coach and has worked with Michael Grandage and the Royal Shakespeare Company. He’s come up with a clever premise we could all relish. However, it’s all in the execution. That is a bit of a roller coaster ride – between Greek tragedy drama and elements of camp and farce with none exquisitely demarcated. It’s also one that demands your very 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.

BriefDeadCheyenneDirector and puppet designer Elizabeth Ostler (creator, Communal Theater, whose mission is “cultivating a connection between audiences and performers”) 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. 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 doesn't want to go. He suggests someone go in his place.

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).
Since the play is in 59E59’s intimate C venue, you might think this is a trial run to see how it, well, plays before taking it further. The intimacy of having the actors virtually in your lap in a good number of seats is an asset. 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.

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