Thornton Wilder referred to The Alcestiad as “a mixture of religious
revival, mother-love-dynamite, and heroic daring-do.” In it, he retells the
ancient legend of Alcestis, Queen of Thessaly, who gave her life for her
husband Admetus, beloved of Apollo, and was brought back from Hell
by Hercules. When the brave and confused Alcestis returns from the
dead, asking large questions about what matters most in life and how we
lead it, we catch more than a glimpse of Emily in Act III of Our Town. Like
Emily, Wilder’s Alcestis is a seeker after understanding, to whom “there
is only one misery, and that is ignorance.” Written in the tradition of the
early Greek tragedies, enhanced by Wilder’s quintessential combination
of plainspoken poignancy and humor, neither death nor happiness is
what it seems to be in this work of enormous emotional range.
The Alcestiad is followed, according to Greek tradition, by a short, comic
Satyr play, The Drunken Sisters.
In The Drunken Sisters, Wilder’s Satyr play, Apollo, disguised
as a kitchen-boy, seeks to confound the three Fates to save the life of