Classics teachers who want their students to understand and enjoy Greek theatre should have brought them to Big Dance Theatre’s production of Supernatural Wife that played BAM’s Harvey Theatre last weekend. This adaptation showed lucky audiences how it should be done.
Anne Carson interpreted Euripides’ Alkestis simply and freely, and the Big Dance Theatre has joined her sparse script to music, dance, silent film, still pictures on television screens, voiceover, dance, drums, song, and just plain acting to tell the story clearly with passion and great humor. Yes, humor. And joy.
Paul Lazar and Annie-B Parsons, co-artistic directors of the Big Dance Theatre and co-directors of Supernatural Wife, do not separate theatre and dance. They know better. Annie-B choreographed the six performers in a modern yet timeless style that sang Zorba the Greek to the uninitiated. Even the costume changes were clever.
The story briefly: King Admetos is scheduled to die and doesn’t want to. He asks many people, including his parents, to die by proxy for him. No takers, except his loyal wife Alkestis. Thanks, honey.
Molly Hickok is a hoot, dancing in the opening, hiding behind a curtain to emerge with a man’s traditional Greek costume. She dips below the curtain again to re-emerge with a long dark moustache to transform herself into King Admetos.
His wife Alkestis is danced and beautifully acted by Tymberly Canale with some languor, then energy, wit, anger, and finally, calm.
Pete Simpson played Apollo as laid back even in anger, then was downright hilarious as Heracles (a.k.a. Hercules) in the second half of the play.
Chris Giarmo’s gorgeous tenor gives us the woeful cries of a traditional mourner (Ai!). The captions for the songs are as funny as the cries are aching.
Elizabeth DeMent is the loyal household servant, providing comfort and commentary, through dance. Her body is a powerful messenger.
Aaron Mattocks is Death. His verbal duel with Apollo at the opening is marvelous, his flippant treatment of Alkestis an introduction to the irreverent style of Anne Carson’s translation,
A Greek chorus is not easy to make palatable to a modern audience, but Giarmo, DeMent, Mattocks, Simpson, and a few televisions screens make it work.
Supernatural Wife is a gorgeous creation, a bold collaboration between Lazar, Parsons, Carson, and the cast, as credited in the program. Pulling it all even more closely together are brilliant design and technical work by Jane Shaw (sound), Joanne Howard (gorgeous set, almost alive), Jeff Larson’s clever videos, and Joe Levasseur’s flowing lighting design. These are complemented by Oana Botez-Ban's perfect costumes (which evoked, for me, the traditionally dressed dolls I was given as a child by family friends who’d visited Greece). Music flows through the piece, challenging, soothing, energizing, particularly Chris Giarmo’s choral music.
The ending was creepily reminiscent not just of Orpheus and Eurydice but of the last act of The Winter’s Tale, with a dead queen standing still as a statue before her bemused king.
Everything about Supernatural Wife is a tour de force, the only shame being its short run. Keep an eye out for another production elsewhere, anywhere.
~ Molly Matera, signing off, her faith in BAM, dance, and theatre renewed.