Monday, September 7, 2009

The Bacchae: Sexless in New York

Summer in NYC is always the sexiest time of year, so to me it made hot and sweaty sense that following on the high heels of Shakespeare in the Park's Anne Hathaway Bard vehicle “Twelfth Night,” arrived “The Bacchae,” the Euripides tragedy directed by The Public Theater's former artistic director Joanne Akalaitis with an original score by her former husband Philip Glass. It starred miscast cutie pie Jonathan Groff (“Spring Awakening,” “Hair”) as the god Dionysus who whips his Theban female worshippers — a.k.a. The Bacchae, which has a better ring to it than Dionysus-heads — into a lustful frenzy. This in turn stokes the ire of the uptight king of Thebes, Pentheus, played by the usually nuanced Anthony Mackie, who instead chose to channel the god of bellowing Al Pacino. With a setup like this it's nearly a given that things take a turn for the worst both onstage and within the Greek drama.

To read the rest visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal San Francisco.

1 comment:

Don Arrup said...

I liked this production of the Bacchae though i think the translation they chose was weak. I didn't see Groff's portrayal as virginal. He was more like a vengeful aristocrat in pre-revolutionary France-courtly and cruel. It was also the only time I've seen the humor work. Both Pentheus and the old men were ridiculous in a way we could all recognize.
Could it have been better? Certainly. The choral odes which are really the strength of the script were muddled in their images and meter. I liked the movement of the chorus but it didn't have anywhere to go with so uninspired a translation. I wish the chorus or at least half of them would have performed them in the original Greek so we could feel the power of the poetry. As it was and usually is we politely listened and waited for the drama to resume.
Greek tragedy remains a huge challenge for modern directors. I hope one day to see you take a stab at it. Your Living Theatre background will come in handy. They were probably the only American group to capture the power of this play.