Bakkhai; Bro­ken Im­ages;

NOW Magazine - - CONTENTS - gleNN sumi

bakkHai by Euripi­des, adapted by ñ

Anne Car­son (Strat­ford). At the Tom Pat­ter­son Theatre. Runs to Septem­ber 23. $50-$153.75. 1-800-567-1600. Rat­ing: NNNNN

Never try to con­trol the power of women’s sex­u­al­ity. That’s one of the big take­aways from this dev­as­tat­ing take on Euripi­des’s Bakkhai (bet­ter known as The Bac­chae).

It’s no sur­prise that two women are be­hind this pro­duc­tion: Anne Car­son wrote the adap­ta­tion, in lan­guage that’s both po­etic and frankly col­lo­quial, and the Na­tional Arts Cen­tre’s Jil­lian Kei­ley di­rects. The epony­mous cho­rus of women fea­tures such dra­matic heavy­weights as Rose­mary Dun­smore, Laura Condlln and Bahia Wat­son.

The story is sim­ple: King Pen­theus (Gor­don S. Miller) re­fuses to ac­knowl­edge the demigod Dionysos (Mac Fyfe), who’s amassed a cult of fren­zied fe­male fol­low­ers, in­clud­ing Pen­theus’s mother, Agave (Lucy Pea­cock). Pen­theus de­clares war on the Bakkhai, and (spoiler alert!) loses his head, as well as some other body parts.

From the start, Kei­ley cre­ates a sort of erotic dream­scape, as the Bakkhai whirl and twirl onto the vagina-like im­agery of the set (de­signs are by Shawn Ker­win), chant­ing, singing and rap­ping to the haunt­ing melodies of Veda Hille.

Pen­theus is a bu­reau­cratic type, car­ry­ing around an iPad (on which, in one of the pro­duc­tion’s most vivid se­quences, he tries to mas­tur­bate to blurred porn). Dionysos, mean­while, is a capri­cious, an­drog­y­nous fig­ure who hides dan­ger­ous pos­si­bil­i­ties be­hind his perma-smile.

The pro­duc­tion moves along swiftly to its in­evitable con­clu­sion. An­dré Morin’s mes­sen­ger mono­logue is a model of sto­ry­telling, and Pea­cock’s dis­cov­ery of what her Agave has done evokes, like the best Greek tragedy, a sense of pity and fear.

Be­fore Agave is sent into ex­ile, Kei­ley gives us a scene in which Pea­cock changes out­fits. It’s a mostly word­less se­quence, but each mo­ment in which the ac­tor straps and tight­ens her­self into her new wardrobe reg­is­ters with its own kind of tragedy.

Only a woman could have di­rected this mar­vel­lous mo­ment, one of many in this not-to-be-missed pro­duc­tion.

Women rule in in­no­va­tive Bakkhai.

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