BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
A new theater company is going back to the roots of drama with a debut production of Alcestis, the earliest surviving play by the Greek tragedian Euripides.
"I think Alcestis is part of what we want to do," said C. David Frankel, artistic director of the Tampa Repertory Theatre. "We want to provide opportunities to see lesser-known plays from the whole spectrum of theater history, from all different genres. We want to do musicals, classical plays, contemporary plays, obscure plays, well-known plays."
Alcestis, first produced in 438 B.C., is rarely staged outside of schools. Like most ancient drama by Euripides and the other major Greek playwrights, Sophocles and Aeschylus, it deals with mythological subjects. The title character agrees to die in place of her husband, Admetus, who has made a bargain with the gods to prolong his life if he can find a substitute for his death. Alcestis doesn't want to leave her children without a father, but her devotion to Admetus has its limits. She puts conditions on her sacrifice that lead to a finale that connects with contemporary themes of death and dying and the role of women in society.
"I think Alcestis is all about how to live your life without fear and move forward with the decisions you make and embrace them," director Megan Lamasney said. "These days, we all live in fear in some ways. We have these wars going on, terrorism, the economy, cancer. We live our lives concerned about these things almost to the point that we're not living day to day. We're not stopping to smell the roses."
Lamasney, 24, recently directed a gritty production of Disco Pigs, an Irish coming-of-age play, at the Silver Meteor. She is a 2009 graduate of the theater program at the University of South Florida, where Frankel (her father-in-law) is assistant director of the program. Many in the cast of nine for Alcestis also studied at USF, including Kim DiPiano (Alcestis) and David Barrow (Admetus).
Tampa Repertory Theatre is starting out small. For Alcestis, the company is renting the Studio Theatre, a black-box space seating about 60, on the Ybor City campus of Hillsborough Community College. It has not announced any more plays. Actors will be paid from a share of the box office.
"We want to have a slight emphasis on classical American theater from (Eugene) O'Neill through the '70s or so," said Frankel, 57. "We'd like to bring to Tampa well-known plays but also some that haven't got much stage time recently. For example, I don't know when a play by Lillian Hellman was last done here."
He went on to cite works he'd like to present by an eclectic range of American playwrights, from Tennessee Williams to once prominent but now neglected writers such as Philip Barry (Holiday, The Philadelphia Story) and Susan Glaspell (Trifles, Inheritors).
"I think Tampa can support a company doing work along these lines," Frankel said. "As a sort of aspiration, I think of Tampa Repertory Theatre as being geographically and theatrically located between American Stage and Orlando Shakespeare Theater."
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.