I’m going to go with rom-com on this one. Yes, British playwright Christopher Fry wrote it in 1946, but “A Phoenix Too Frequent” still stands up as a quirky love story. As American Players Theatre Director Keira Fromm says, “It’s a meet-cute in a mausoleum.”
Now that I have your attention, let’s discuss Fry. He’s probably better known for his popular verse drama “The Lady’s Not for Burning”; he was a major force in the British theater in the 1940s and ’50s, and also was a scriptwriter for the epic film “Ben Hur.”
In “A Phoenix Too Frequent,” his trio of likeable characters Dynamene, Doto and Tegeus Chromis are intelligent and funny throughout his one-act play. There’s an evident theme of living life to the fullest, tempered with the deception of expectations and duty – all the time delivered with a whimsical dialogue and clever word play.
The plot is uniquely curious. In classical Ephesus, the beautiful widow Dynamene (Phoebe González) has shuttered herself and her loyal servant Doto (Tyler Meredith) in the tomb of her recently deceased husband, Virilius. She is prepared to die from grief over his death, and apparently he was quite the catch. His nose was “as straight as the buttress,” he was so punctual you could “regulate the sun by him,” and he made “balance sheets sound like Homer, and Homer sound like balance sheets.”
On their second day of weeping, graceful swooning, and not eating, a Roman centurion Tegeus (Christopher Sheard), attracted by the light coming from the tomb at 2 a.m., stumbles in. He’s meant to be guarding the corpses of six criminals hanging outside on trees. Doto invites him to sit down (Dynamene is sleeping) and be her “last company in the flesh” before she and Dynamene cross into Hades.
She also partakes of his wine, and as the gods would have it, Dynamene awakens, and after rejecting and mocking Tegeus, guess what – they fall for each other and fall hard (Doto is now conveniently passed out). Dynamene suddenly wants to live!
A slight complication: In leaving his post, Tegeus lingered too long and didn’t prevent the family of one of the six criminals from reclaiming the body for burial. Tegeus is in violation of Section 6, Paragraph 3, and now will be court-martialed and hanged. But never fear, of course there’s a happy ending that I will not reveal, but take this clue: “Virilius’ death gives the power of life.” I’ll let you figure out why “phoenix” is in the title for yourself.
All three of these actors, González, Meredith and Sheard, must be commended. The amount of text and dialogue is incredible, and they deliver all flawlessly. Their comedic timing, chemistry and physicality are delightful. These three are well-cast, endearing and compellingly energetic performers.
Director Fromm and American Players have done a masterful job of reviving this oft-neglected and ignored play, originally slated for the 2020 season. The scenic design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec showcases the arches, statuary and marble of the tomb of Virilius, enhanced by the cold blues and moonshine lighting of Jesse Klug. Mieka van der Ploeg’s costumes are exactly what you’d expect a Roman soldier, rich widow and beloved servant to wear – visually pleasing and elegant.
Spring Green’s American Players Theatre has had an amazing season of presenting impressive theater in its two venues. This year was the road back; I can hardly wait to see what the future road, their next season, involves.
• Regina Belt-Daniels has been involved with the theater in one capacity or another from actor to director since the first grade. She is proud to have worked with venues from the Raue Center For The Arts to the Woodstock Opera House and beyond. She currently serves on the Its Showtime Advisory Commission and RCLPC Board.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “A Phoenix Too Frequent” by American Players Theatre
WHERE: APT’s indoor Touchstone Theatre at Spring Green, Wisconsin
WHEN: Through Oct. 3
COST: Prices vary; also available to stream