Euripedes "Bacchai," is at IU’s Wells-Metz Theatre in a fast paced production directed by Randy White that plays out in an intermissionless eighty minutes. The "Bacchai" is a tale of the invasion of Greece by an Asian religion. Dionyus and his followers have swept through Asia Minor converting cities as they came. Dionysus, a sort of arrogant surfer-type played by Robert Spaulding, and his chorus of followers enter Thebes, the first of the Greek Cities. The chorus of women are dressed as characters out of Japanese anime. IU’s Designer Linda Pisano has them in little girl skirts and tops, but with massive platform shoes and boots. Their wigs are bright blue and pink saucily perched on mostly expressionless faces. They were indeed a frightening combination of innocence and amoral sexiness.
The Thebes that Dionysus and his followers invade is already in decline. Cadmus, who created the Greek race by sowing dragon’s teeth is now a figure of fun. He’s an old man, Mike Mauloff, wandering around swinging a golf club ornamented with an auto horn. The blind seer Teresias, Nicole Bruce, once a mediator between the worlds of men and of spirits is reduced to being an amusing sophistic linguist.
Thebes’ King Pentheus, Sam Wooten, seems to be part of the general decline as well. Wooten’s King is more characterized by inner confusions than outward skill and resolve. Neither his brittle dictatorial pose nor his later willingness to be much too flexible are any match for the power or the attraction of Dionysus and his followers. Kacie Leblong was the king’s well spoken servant.
As the "Bacchai" develops reports come in from the mountains. The women of Thebes have indeed become bacchai. An eloquent herdsman, Josh Gaboian, tells of the women influenced by Dionysus. At first they were seen nobly enjoying the freedom of the hills, but then fell into such a rampage that they slaughtered animals with their bare hands and ate them. It heightens the effect that chief among the women was King Pentheus’ own mother Agave, played with wonderful naturalness by Hannah Smith.
Part of the fascination for us of the "Bacchai" lies in the fact that neither the excesses of Dionysus nor the increasingly introspective quality of Greek life seem to be or even to suggest clear or easy answers for a society under attack.
The IU Theatre’s production of Euripedes "Bacchai" plays each evening through Saturday in the Well-Metz Theatre.