A Haunting 'Bacchae' at New School
(Photos courtesy of Rebecca Weill)
Madness is fluid. It's based on perspective. Is revenge madness, a primal instinct unfit for higher beings? Or is it the best and most potent tool of the gods? We still question whether our actions cause the disasters, natural or otherwise, that fall upon us, but in Euripides' "The Bacchae," performed by the New School of Northern Virginia, the consequences are much more direct.
The play, first performed at the festival of Dionysus, the Greek god of revelry, wine and intoxication, in 405 B.C., tells a haunting story of the consequences of repressing one's unconscious desires. The tragedy, translated by Paul Woodruff, closely aligns the current colloquial language with Greek verse in forceful and vigorous rhythm.
In the play, Dionysus works to gain recognition from the plagued city of Thebes by driving the women of the city into the mountains, mad with his spirit. Pentheus, the king of Thebes, attempts to jail Dionysus' followers, whose festivities he considers inappropriate. As the stubborn king struggles with the obstinate god, tragedy ensues.
As Dionysus, Morgaine Gooding-Silverwood displayed her prowess with supreme control and poise in movement and stature. Ben Fletcher (Pentheus) was a joy to watch with his fatuous intensity and later his comedic dexterity as he navigated a ridiculous French ball gown. Sparks flew as the duo jousted and parried in their dialogue.
As Tiresias, Will Bousman gave a convincing portrayal of a blind man. Mary Kobor, as Agave, the mother and murderer of Pentheus, artfully captured her character's madness with her hurried speech and energy. Anna Moses-Schmitt, as the possessed leader of the Bacchantes, showed playfulness and power as she preached by microphone that retribution was in store for those who did not worship the gods.
In the dancing and inebriated ensemble of the maenads, Olivia Whitham (the sprightly Orange Bacchante) stood out with her acrobatic dancing. Brian Kraemer's edgy hip-hop moves highlighted the energy of the revels.
At times, enthusiasm was lacking in consistency from the ensemble, but the powerful message of the play resonated with the audience through quality acting.
The zany and ethereal makeup (Soo Min Lee, Hyun Joo Lee, Nam Le and Liz Lusk) was a delight, with its abstract shapes and sharp contours of glitter for each character in the ritual. Each design was bold, carefully done and impressively maintained throughout the show. Sound (Glenn McGurrin, Katie Mutchler) gave an eerie New Age quality to the singing of the maenads as a chorus and helped demonstrate the power of Dionysus with a rumbling soundtrack.
"Truth is horrible, because it always comes too late," the grief-stricken Cadmus says. When all is said and done, it is true that the gods are peevish and the Greek world nearly impossible to count on because of quickly shifting tempers and alliances. But for the New School, one truth remained: their actors' commitment to an ancient concept of theater and excellence in executing it.
Washington Post Editors
February 18, 2009; 11:13 AM ET
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