Arts & Culture Reviews

Review: The Bacchae

The Bacchae, with strong acting and well-rehearsed mask work, was an energetic show that compellingly articulated a lesson in the importance of succumbing to Bacchic revelry.

The Bacchae cast performs at the top of the King’s library steps. (Photo: Jacob Baker-Kretzmar)

For King’s theatre, the first weekend of October means sharing blankets and tea — or something stronger — and gathering around the library steps, to see the annual Classics in the Quad show. This year’s production was Aaron Shenkman’s take on Euripides’ The Bacchae, a tale of misdirected royal hubris and the power of the god of wine and madness, Dionysus.
Shenkman’s choice to have his cast in masks could have been a disaster — they risk mangling voices, decreasing projection or hiding emotion. (It should be noted, though, that audience members seated further from the library steps complained, after the show, that they had difficulty hearing the cast.) However, what they added to the audience’s perception of the characters was very effective and a strong directorial decision. It was clear the actors had worked with the masks and they were able to act through them without compromising any emotional moments in the play.

Last year’s Classics review:
Classics in the Quad: Lysistrata

Dionysus’ followers, the Maenads, were a chorus of eight that was consistent throughout the play, acting together as one body while maintaining their individual characteristics. Their separate mannerisms, combined with manic and frenzied movement, gave them a dynamic stage presence at all moments, which is easy to lose when acting in a large group. Chorus leader Kate Jordan was especially powerful in her role as a frenetic, mothering figure.
The play follows the tragedy of Pentheus, King of Thebes, who rejects the worship of Dionysus, immediately vilifying both wine and women—never a good choice. Played by Thomas Jestin, Pentheus was part hubristic frat boy and part the original King Joffrey. Jestin provided appropriate humour and, when dressed as a woman by Dionysus to go see the Bacchae, charmed the audience by being as giddy as a girl going to prom.

John Maize and Tom Lute perform a scene of The Bacchae on the steps of the King’s library. (Photo: Jacob Baker-Kretzmar)

In a shift in tone from the humour of the first half, Sean Mott, as Pentheus’ right-hand man, delivered a monologue detailing Pentheus’ demise at the hands of the Bacchae and of his own mother. Mott was backed by the Maenad’s reenactment of the scene, making for one of the more awkward moments of the show, in terms of blocking. Attention was shifted from Mott’s dynamism to the Maenads’ awkward formations.
In all, this production of The Bacchae was wonderfully acted. There were some wonderful moments, including those of veteran KTS actors John Maize and Tom Lute, as Tiresias and Cadmus, in their portrayal of two old comical codgers wanting to take part in Bacchic revelry, as well as Stephanie Hood’s depiction of Agave, Pentheus’s misdirected mother, from her true belief in the justice of her actions to her realization of her own murder of her son.
Congratulations to the cast and crew of The Bacchae on an energetic show that compellingly articulates a lesson in the importance of succumbing to Bacchic revelry.

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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