Euripides' Alcestis marks the first Genesius Guild production of a Greek tragedy I've seen without doing advance research on the play's plot, which I usually do out of fear of being lost. I'm happy to say, though, that I did not get lost in the slightest during Saturday's performance, thanks to the production's clear plot points and dialogue, ample projection from the actors speaking from behind sound-inhibiting masks, and the comfortable flow of Dori Foster's direction. The play is interesting in its exploration of fate, and also entertaining by way of costumer Ellen Dixon's simple yet elegant designs (particularly for the women in the chorus), Earl Strupp's aesthetically pleasing masks (with their glittery colors and wisps of escaped locks of hair), and the cast's earnest characterizations.
The plot centers on Admetos (Doug Adkins), a king granted freedom from death by Apollo (Bryan Woods), who served out a sentence placed on him by Zeus. The gift, however, comes at a price, as Admetos can only avoid death if someone else takes his place at his allotted time - which happens when Admetos' wife Alcestis (Katie Ross) steps up to die in his stead.
Woods, with his godlike projection and stately enunciation, sets the stage for us as his Apollo explains the punishment, and his resulting friendship with Admetos, that prompted the gift of avoiding Death (a god played with poise, and all-too-briefly, by the talented Calvin Vo). There's a palpable power in Woods' voice as his Apollo angrily but unsuccessfully commands Death to allow Alcestis to live. Ross' acting, meanwhile, is at its finest when Alcestis fearfully pleads for her life with a deep sadness in her delivery, then switches to a braver tone as she explains to her husband why she's taking his place.
Adkins' Admetos possesses a nobility in his voice that's proper for a king, but with clear undertones of melancholy due to the loss of his wife, particularly as he commands those in his house to end their revelry. There's also a beautiful moment in which Adkins raises his hands to the eyes in his mask to rub them, as if to hold back tears or wipe them away, and this small action is striking for the way in which Adkins does not treat his mask as a mask, but rather as Admetos' actual face.
Following the death of Alcestis, Bob Hanske's Herakles pays a visit to Admetos, who tells him he's in mourning for someone, but doesn't disclose that it's his wife. Thinking the dead woman is someone none too important to Admetos, Herakles drinks and carouses and allows for the production's funniest moments, with Hanske speaking in a hysterical, drunken slur while admonishing the servant assigned to him to cheer up, as death is a given in life. (Alex Brown, speaking with conviction, portrays Admetos' servant, and is clearly appalled by Herakles' behavior and dismissive speech.) Patti Flaherty makes the most of her brief appearance as a maid, dripping with sincerity and sadness while speaking of Alcestis' impending death, while Jason Dlouhy could use more stage time, too; his Pheres is a force with which to be reckoned as he chastises son Admetos for being angry with him for allowing Alcestis to die.
Director Foster also deserves a nod for the clever ways in which she blocks the 14-member chorus. During one particular scene, each chorus member crosses the stage while delivering an individual line, and while this decision could be seen as a somewhat lazy and annoying one, Foster changes things up for her actors; some cross the stage fully, employing different travel routes, while others simply move a bit while remaining on the same side of the stage in which they started speaking. This choreographed bit is more interesting to watch than having the chorus members stand in place and recite their lines would be, and also manages to seem organic, in a way, rather than staged. That's also true of Genesius Guild's entire production of Alcestis, which is not only entertaining, but also sincere.
Alcestis runs at Lincoln Park (11th Avenue and 38th Street, Rock Island) through July 7, and more information is available by visiting Genesius.org.