“There was no script,” explains director-playwright Nancy Keystone, when she and her company, Critical Mass Performance Group, showed up at the Getty Villa about two weeks before the scheduled presentation of the troupe's commissioned adaptation of the ancient Greek Alcestis myth.
Well, there was Euripides' play, the basis of what was to become Keystone's adaptation, but performing the 438 B.C. drama, Alcestis, wasn't what the company had been invited for, nor the kind of thing they usually do.
For the couple of weeks before they showed up at the Getty, Critical Mass had been poring over Euripides' play, discussing its story of King Admetus, who is called to die in his prime but given an offer to have somebody go to the underworld in his stead. Everybody turns him down, including his aged parents — which pisses him off no end, the selfish old codgers (“I gave you your life, why should I give you mine?” his mother fires back at him from her walker, in Keystone's adaptation) — until his wife, Alcestis, chooses to sacrifice her life for his.
Two hours before the first performance of An Alcestis Project — what was, by design, a “work-in-progress” — the company was still rehearsing.
Exudes Keystone, “They gave us a space and eight hours a day to work. They even fed us, so there were no distractions, no excuse for doing anything but the work. So different from the standard working conditions for companies like ours.”
The result last weekend was a 60-minute performance written by Keystone, huge swaths of which were staged and choreographed by her in collaboration with the company; a few sections were read by actors at music stands.
It was filled with gorgeous scenes: Alcestis (Kalean Ung) digging via soliloquy into the reasoning by which she could kiss the world — and her two children — goodbye, for her husband's sake. Admetus (Jeremy Shranko) on hands and knees, contorting his way offstage left while Alcestis walked away upstage, arm in arm with Death (Russell Edge), as though she's off to a cocktail party in the arms of a lover. Randy Tico's poignant sound design and Adam Frank's piquant lights helped transport the most rudimentary questions of family values across two and a half millennia. —Steven Leigh Morris
AN ALCESTIS PROJECT | Adapted and directed by Nancy Keystone; created in collaboration with Critical Mass Performance Group | Getty Villa, Auditorium | Closed