JWR Articles: Live Event - Bakkhai (Director: Jillian Kelley) - June 18, 2017
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Bakkhai

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New version favours the old

Putting new clothes on an old—ancient, in this case—text is fraught with opportunity and risk.

On the opportunity front, there’s the possibility that a much wider audience will see, savour and understand a play whose original (be that an early translation of the Greek) language may fly by incomprehensibly to those amongst us who never had the chance to delve deep into an arts-infused, classical education.

The risk stems largely from the revitalization sounding somewhat false or contrived with the inclusion of modern colloquialisms, phrases and references (the mere mention of “fake” has already become an overused descriptor).

In Anne Carson’s new version of the centuries’ old text (reportedly premièred in 405 BC) is given a fanciful, inventive turn but fell short from the mark of dramatic authenticity that was envisioned by the playwright, lo those many eons ago.

Director Jillian Kelley was the able champion of the updated text, opting not to force specific points of view, statements or dream interpretations (so prescient as I carefully wade my way through Freud’s landmark, Interpreting Dreams) onto the patrons.

The opening sequence was as remarkable for our first view of Mac Fyfe’s Dionysos (aka Bromios, Bakkhos, Lydian Stranger—such a busy god needs all manner of identities to stand apart from other deities) and somewhat disappointing with the less-than-stellar key component: the Chorus.

With an engaging and pulsating score created by Veda Hille urging them on, the septet of women were frequently “untogether” and afflicted with pitch vagaries (especially the solo lines to come) that far too often distracted from their vital declamations/commentaries instead of reinforcing the back-story, updates and timely reflection on the action.

As the god du jour, Fyfe was appropriately alluring if a touch too lavender to convince that his first Bacchian duty was to the fairer sex.

Looking somewhat less than the requisite late-teens (ah, the joy of repertory casting), Gordon Miller was initially most convincing as the hot-headed, god-doubting Pentheus (gamely going along with the simulated masturbation scene with courage—and notebook stimulation…), but slipped several notches of credibility when he—with heavenly assistance—slipped on his dress/wig along the way to unobtrusively observing the unrepentant, hedonistic women holed up with their wine on the mountain—not least of which was his mother, Agave (Lucy Peacock, literally teetering over the top in her initial soused appearance; much later redeeming herself with the stark, sobering realization that the “monster” she’d killed with her bare hands was her only son, yet further hampered by a tedious onstage change of costume that served very little dramatic purpose).

From a visual point of view, Shawn Kerwin’s red/blood-driven leaf set fit well with the carnage on hand; the lighting effects from Cimmeron Meyer were appropriately beguiling even if a couple of cues lagged in their timely resolution.

Finally, as Pentheus’ dismembered body parts—curiously decked out in garb unbecoming his metamorphosis to “She who must be obeyed”—were removed from sight, one couldn’t help remembering the glee to which the “old farts” (Graham Abbey, a finely nuanced Teiresias; Nigel Bennett, the ideal straight man) readily drank at the cup of Dionysos, if only to purposely avoid the pain all around them.

A much stronger “proof” of that fact might have been shared with one and all, if more of Euripides’ vision had been left to speak for itself. JWR

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