Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Bacchae

On Thursday I had just arrived home from work, thrown off my shoes and collapsed onto my bed with my laptop when Rachel messaged me--she had free tickets to Shakespeare In the Park! Now, in New York you learn to jump at opportunities like this with no questions or hesitation. Of course I wanted to see Shakespeare In the Park. It's one of the most amazing things to do in the summer, and tickets are hard to get. Every year they put on a couple of plays at the Delacorte Theatre in the middle of Central Park, and admission is free but usually involves waiting all day in line. But Rachel's friend had tickets for us!

This year they did Twelfth Night by Shakespeare as well as the non-Shakespeare play The Bacchae, a Greek tragedy by Euripides--the play we were headed to see. As we made our way into the dusky park, night was falling fast, but the August heat and humidity surrounded us like a heavy blanket. Crickets and moths watched as we followed the sound of drums to the theatre, and as we slipped into our seats the Bacchants were already in full song. I was instantly hooked.

The play is about the new god Dionysus, a young new god of revelry and passion, who sweeps across the land like wildfire, enflaming the women, who leave their homes to live with wild abandon. The play shows the effect of Dionysus on one particular town and family, with a horrifying conclusion. Written in ancient times but with new music by Philip Glass and a rock-star lead actor, the play was (maybe not so) surprisingly wonderful. While it has actually been panned by critics as being too dry, too strange, and not very coherent, I found myself loving every moment of it and being completely captivated the entire time.

I loved the Bacchants in their blood-red sci-fi costumes and their amazing choruses. I loved Pentheus in his immaculate suit, his desire to protect his city at war with his curiosity to see the Bacchants in action. I loved Dionysius, played by Jonathan Groff, in the persona of a snotty rich-kid hell-raiser/teen idol. I loved the shepherd man whose monologue, backed by the heartbeat thrum of an amazing live orchestra, sent chills up and down my spine as he recounted the play's most horrible tragedy. And I loved Agave, mother of Pentheus, who realizes much too late what devastation can be caused by following after lust and fleeting pleasure. It was a powerful tale when written back in 400 B.C., and it continues to be very relevant, entertaining, and impactful. I'm so glad I got to see it--thanks Rachel!

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