If you’ve lived in Bellingham for any length of time, you’re probably aware that a great many people discover their artistic juju in this city—that is, before they pack up their belongings and leave town for bigger, brighter burgs.
And although it’s sad when the actors, playwrights, musicians, dancers and painters wave a fond farewell, it’s not always the end of the story.
While it’s true some leave town and are never seen or heard from again, others do return. Such is the case with iDiOM Theater founder Glenn Hergenhahn. Although he’s still a resident of New York City, he’s temporarily sublet his urban apartment and has been back in Bellingham for the past month or so helping out on an old play, King of Sparta, and birthing a new play, Briseis.
At the world premiere of the latter last Thursday, it was obvious whatever sort of creative Kool-Aid Hergenhahn has been chugging during his time in the Big Apple has paid off.
In the press release sent out for the play, the work was described as a “comic tragedy about one of the lesser known characters of the Trojan War: captive and concubine Briseis.” What it didn’t say was that Briseis (pronounced BRY-see-us) would give me chills, make me laugh out loud, provide a history lesson of sorts and, for nearly two hours, make me forget I was seated in a small theater in Bellingham.
Familiar faces populated the cast of Briseis, but the actors rose to the occasion and reinvented themselves for the Greek tragicomedy, which takes place during the final days of one of the most famous wars in history.
Beginning with a haunting dirge about the hardships of battle and the upcoming subject matter, the play soon progressed to a fascinating tale about what it takes to survive when all you’ve ever known has been ripped out from under you.
Aurora RuPert plays the title character with a mixture of stunned grief and moxie. After her hometown, Tollos, is burned to the ground and her parents, brothers and husband are killed by the wonky warrior Achilles (Sol Olmstead), she’s promised first to the man responsible for her grief and then to the warrior and king Agamemnon (played with booming, glorious insanity by Andrew Herndon).
Briseis veers somewhat away from the storyline familiar in Homer’s the Iliad, but in inventive ways. The epic poem suggests Briseis and Achilles eventually fell in love, but a cautious truce is all that’s suggested in Hergenhahn’s vision. Other changes include making Helen of Troy (Shu-Ling Zhao) a ditzy figurehead seemingly unconcerned with the havoc her actions have engendered and giving ample stage time to slaves that wouldn’t normally be noticed in historical annals (Kim Ross, Kari Severns, and Sandy Brewer all deserve props for their contributions here).
As a whole, the ensemble—which also includes Ben Eisner, Jeff Braswell, Riley Penaluna, Elliott Glasser, David Neevel, and Wesley Davis—works hard to make audiences care about the tale not just of Briseis, but also of an age when men and women believed in gods, plagues were common and death often came without warning. The fact that it’s often funny is just icing on the proverbial cake.
Briseis plays for two more weekends. Presumably, that’s when Hergenhahn will get back on a plane and leave town again. You’d do well to catch him, and the play, before that happens.
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