“Vigorous, erotic, and ultimately haunting production of Euripides’ massive play. As the audience is seated, a chorus of 19 lithesome young Maenads, dressed in spandex dancewear, gathers on a Spartan, earth-tone set to warm up – stretching, humming in unison, stripping out of their tights to don loose-fitting mock-Greco tunics. Written near the end of Euripides’ life, and performed only after his death, THE BACCHAE offers a bitter warning to any culture (including that of fifth-century Athens) too enamored of reason; beware of repressing the mystical, sexual forces that reside within us, or they will spew out like a volcanic eruption, burying cities in their wake. “Acknowledge Dionysus,” counsels the Chorus.
That spry, androgynous god of fertility and wine (played with a winking panache and an ever-twisting torso by the cherubic Richard Werner) is back in Thebes, disguised as a mere mortal – a “little faggot,” to quote his archrival, King Pentheus (T.J. Ryan). Dionysus has a rather large chip on his shoulder, and understandably so: his lineage has come into question, and people aren’t taking him as seriously as befits a meta-human.
So, to exact his revenge, Dionysus rouses – and arouses – his cult of women followers. Euripides’ chorus tells us of lesbian orgies transpiring in the hills, orgasmic frenzies wherein the gals, endowed with super-human strength, rustle cattle and rip them limb from limb, splattering bloodied bovine organs over their nude flesh. Thoughout the empire, cities are burning.
King Pentheus, dressed in leathers, reacts with a policy born of desperation and insecurity, banning the orgies and ordering his soldiers to arrest as many participants as they can track down. His arguments define the essence of authoritarianism…militarism, actually, dressed in the mantle of reason, of hostility to whatever cannot be logically proved or understood. Add to the mix Pentheus’ mother Agave (in a stoically dignified portrayal by Lynn Odell), who is seriously toying with the idea of joining those sexy ceremonies in the hills.
Pentheus has Dionysus arrested and brought captive before him. The God plays along for a while, enabling the two to engage in a little chat, with Pentheus perched on an imposing, medieval-looking throne (designed and sculpted from metal by Michael Russell. In this context, Dionysus – so gentle, even playful – seems positively Christ-like, bound in chains yet speaking of the freedom that resides within. If ever there was a precursor for the Biblical show-down between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, this is it.
After magically breaking free from his shackles, Dionysus appeals to the King’s voyeuristic impulses, inviting him to see for himself what the lusty Maenads are up to. In Euripides’ play, the climactic scene is merely described, but Mays plays it out on the stage with a bevy of nude nymphs – now including a crazed Agave, blinded by her passion – seducing Pentheus, stripping him naked and wooing him into their circle before literally tearing him to shreds with a horrific female shriek. Later, Agave parades around the city clutching her son’s detached head, believing she has just participated in a lion hunt. Then, finally, tragically, she realizes what she has done.
There is much to be said for this production, particularly as regards the unsullied motives of his creation. This is no industry showcase (unless, of course, these people are completely out of their minds). In the best tradition of ensemble work, Mays and movement director Kim A. Weild have infused the company with an electrifying vibrancy. Thanks to these lightning bolts, images from Mays’ THE BACCHAE linger for days in the imagination.”
– Steven Leigh Morris, LA Weekly
“Daring! An enthusiastic spectacle…rooted in a close reading of the ancient Greek’s timeless insights into repression and its consequences. Enya meets Roger Corman.”
– LA Times
“An excellent update of Euripides’ The Bacchae, directed by Brad Mays, offers a wealth of theatrical virtues not often seen on stages around Los Angeles. Skillfully incorporating ensemble movement, music and incense, it makes visceral and real the need to give the god of lust his due.”
– LA Reader
“Narrow-minded, smug, and overly prideful young Pentheus (T.J. Ryan), the king of Thebes, learns a lesson he soon won’t forget about disrespecting the god Dionysus (Richard Werner). Dionysus lures the resolutely impious Pentheus to his doom by playing on the youthful king’s sexual curiosity – then letting him get torn to pieces by his madly orgying young bevy of sultry Bacchettes. In his ambitious production of Euripides’ tragedy, director/adaptor Brad Mays opts for a highly stylized approach and comes up with some colorful and arresting images. Kim A. Weild’s graceful, ritualistic choreography – which, along with touches like incense and Peter Girard’s moody music – sets an intensely evocative, almost religious mood. Richard Werner’s lithe, loose turn as Dionysus conveys both lasciviousness and danger, and Lynn Odell’s performance as Pentheus’ mother Agave possesses both dignity and a sense of madness. Kudos are also due to make-up designer Andrew Clement, who creates what is undeniably the most unnervingly believable severed head of the year.”
– Backstage West