Bakkhai; Broken Images;
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.