If any of you are in the NY area, and interested in things Bacchic, or if you just have an interest in good theatre, for the love of the Gods go and see The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s current production of “The Bacchae.” It’s phenomenal. We just got back from seeing the production. Here is the letter that I wrote to the theatre company.
“My husband and I attended last night’s performance of the Bacchae and I wanted to reach out to you. It was absolutely fantastic. There is no other way to describe it. I’ve taught the play, read it in the original Greek, written about it, and tried my own hand at translating it (serious kudos to the translator of your version, btw). More to the point, both my husband and I are devotees of Dionysos (He has His worshippers in the modern day), so for us, this is a mystery play, a ritual experience and oh, it was. It really, really was.
Neither of us had ever had the opportunity to see it in person, only on youtube clips. We were excited but approached the performance with some trepidation. It is such a sacred thing for us, what if y’all messed it up? what if you missed the core of the story? What if you portrayed Dionysos wrongly? What if….but almost from the beginning, we knew we were in for something special. By the time the chorus began singing “Go Bacchus, Go Bacchus, Go. Bring Back Dionysos” I was crying.
I”ve known for years that theatre was sacred to Dionysos. It never hit me how and why (and I was a ballet dancer professionally until my early twenties. It *should* have been ingrained in me). I”d just never seen this particular play done, the whole thing a glorious invocation to Him, and oh it makes so much sense now. He was so present throughout. That theatre became a temple.
Mr. Brown did a truly phenomenal job. I was particularly moved by the interactions between him and Mr. Foster…the moments after the latter dons female garb and shows such fragility ‘Can you make me beautiful?’ and Dionysos embraces him and says ‘you are beautiful’ and presses his forehead to that of Pentheus…and there’s such compassion for this broken man, and a chance there for Pentheus to heal and embrace who he truly is, for a different story and yet Pentheus turns away from it and back to hard headed and cruel impiety. It was so clear that when he spoke of wanting to tear the women apart, it was that fragile, fey part of himself that he wanted to truly destroy. It was heart-breaking but so few productions (of the snippets I”ve seen online) capture that.
The militancy of the Bacchantes was really well done and the music…the songs to Dione, to Eirene (“Queen of Heaven”) were beautiful hymns of praise. I really love the way the chorus was handled throughout — and usually I’m dubious about modernizing things, but this worked beautifully (and I especially liked the references to the Hudson and East Rivers instead of the Dirce and Ismene Rivers). it made it strikingly relevant. Opening it by an announcement honoring the Lenape people, the ancestors of those originally indigenous to the land where the theatre stands, slipping in an ‘Ashe’ during one of Dionysos’ monologues were particular touchstones for us. At the end, where Agave raves that she needs no Gods…it was so ugly, so impious, so stubbornly resistant to seeing her own part in all that had unfolded…she had learned nothing and it became obvious where Pentheus and his cousin Actaeon had acquired their foolishness. It really showed how we’re all just one step, one decision away from the road she chose to walk.
Oh thank you for such a powerful performance. That is all I wanted to say. I made a donation when I was there, but my household donates to various places quarterly and now you will be one of those places. It is a fitting offering to Dionysos.
The production runs through July 28. Bring water. Bring bug spray. And bring tissues.