Monday, August 24, 2009

Ye Gods!

I saw The Bacchae tonight at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. It was beautiful outside. Autumn will arrive. You can feel it.

No shortage of raccoons running around.

The play: Dionysus wants to establish his identity in Thebes so he arrives as a mortal and a whole mountain of women (the Chorus) fall in ecstasy. The powerful royal leader, Pantheus (his cousin), will have none of it. He jails Dinonysus and is quickly repaid by Dinonysus’ escape, followed by succumbing to cross dressing to infiltrate the women’s camp and sort of falling in love with Dionysus, followed by being torn apart into pieces by his own mother who was rendered mad.

Look, I don’t like Greek plays. Though the plays of Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus were the precursors to all modern drama, I actually feel like those plays were merely the first precursors to organized drama. Little human primates were running around making believe, telling stories, forever. These Greek plays feel very formalized to me as if, “It’s time we formalize all this fooling around. We’re a serious society now.” Agitprop for the Gods? Cautionary tales to keep people in line, in fear, down? Maybe the only way a democracy can work?

Things do arise. Societies mature, somehow.

I am amazed how Dionysus, unlike Jesus, was so intent on being recognized as the son of God that he made no qualms about inciting mayhem and bloody death. Makes me believe that there were a lot of crazy people running around in days of Greek yore claiming they were Gods. Adds to my theory that Jesus was most likely schizophrenic.

Now, to the production. As my hilarious opera singer step-niece has called certain undesirable performing opportunities---but referring to opera singing, naturally—this was a whole lot of park and bark. So many monologues. So much action not seen or heard.

Jonathan Groff was sweet, but in no way came off as an angry Greek-God-come-to-earth to me. He was more Disney rock star. But I hear, through others, that he is the nicest guy on earth and that everyone loves him. Nice.

Joanne Akalaitis, former artistic director of the Public Theater, founder of Mabou Mines, ex-wife of Philip Glass, directed this thing in some sort of compact of reconciliation with her past from her being fired from The Public Theater. She is abstract and performancy. Things arise from a visual, “Wouldn’t this look cool?” temperament. This is one of my least favorite styles of direction. She turned everything, including laughter and anger, into staged gestures so that, really, nothing was experienced in any way that could be called human. The audience was being kind (or Emperor’s New Clothes-ish sheep-like) not to guffaw at the grotesque responses of the actors on the big, gorgeous set (with silver choral risers in an upward swing).

The music by Philip Glass was very 1956 Hollywood creepy. It was fine, but it felt and sounded like a commission.

Are you turned off yet?

Don’t be, if you like Greek plays, singing choristers, orange outfits, the cute-nice Jonathan Groff, a crack in the stage that goes a bit on fire, raccoons, the feeling that you should take your plays like medicine.

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