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The New School The Bacchae

By • Feb 17th, 2009 • Category: Cappies

“No god is greater than Dionysus,” bellowed Dionysus, slowly encircling the onlookers, searing stares into their souls. This poisonous proclamation set the tone for The New School’s innovative production of The Bacchae, proving that Greek theatre thrives today.

The Bacchae is so named because its central figure, Dionysus, the mythological god of theatre and merriment, is also known as Bacchus. An ancient Greek tragedy by the Athenian playwright Euripides, the play originally premiered in 405 B.C. and has undergone many reincarnations in modern times. The New School’s version was translated by noted classicist Paul Woodruff and closely followed the original text. The basis for The Bacchae is the legendary tale of Pentheus, ruler of Thebes, and his mother, Agave, who were both punished by Dionysus because they did not believe that Dionysus was truly the son of Zeus and refused to worship him as a deity. Assisting Dionysus in his retribution were his loyal Bacchantes, whose actions, fueled by Dionysus’ anger, created frenzied chaos.

The strength of this show was the inventive, creative, even daring concept. Traditionally, Dionysus is male and disguised as a blond stranger. The New School’s Dionysus, indeed a blond in disguise, was a female. This interpretation was intriguing, as was the decision to have both males and females play Dionysus’ traditionally all-female followers.

Leading the actors with an exceptional portrayal of Dionysus was Morgaine Gooding-Silverwood. She was confident and skilled in her delivery of the complicated and copious dialogue. Gooding-Silverwood advantageously employed dramatic pauses as well as intense physical and vocal expressions in her work. Ben Fletcher, as Pentheus, showed his wide range of acting abilities as his portrayal of Pentheus swung from a stern and intense ruler to a hilarious female masquerader.

All of the actors handled the difficult dialogue well and contributed significantly to the show’s success. Two especially notable supporting performances were given by Mary Kobor and Will Bousman. As Pentheus’ mother, Agave, Kobor was utterly committed to her character and captured Agave’s enthusiastic spirit well. Bousman, as the blind seer Tiresius, brought humor to his role, particularly in his smug facial expressions.

The harem-esque Bacchantes, led by Anna Moses-Schmitt, fervently demonstrated their devotion to Dionysus primarily through passionate and evocative dancing. Although at times the Bacchantes’ free-spirited movements were a bit distracting, they provided the intended effect.

The technical aspects suitably supported the production. The cast fully and cleverly used the black box theatre venue, even spilling into the aisles and mingling among the theatre goers. The centerpiece of the set was a faux fire of glowing red gossamer surrounded by a dilapidated fence, representing Dionysus’ mother’s tomb. The makeup was outstanding with intense jewel-toned colors applied expertly, achieving a sinuous and strong result.

Mounting such a complicated show was risky, but it was a risk worth taking. The intelligent and creative presentation of The Bacchae by The New School was entertaining, enlightening, and flush with fables that still ring true today.

by Meghan Palmer of Bishop Ireton High School

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