It’s an accident of timing that they should suddenly appear on stage this week–this square-jawed child of privilege with ramrod military bearing and rigid moral view, and the vaguely effeminate youth he means to punish for perceived social deviancy.
“First I will cut off these love-locks,” threatens the bully with a sneer. “I have more power than you.”
Then, to his confederates, “Seize him.”
Times have changed, of course. Today, their conflict would play out not in a prep-school dorm, but in a classics class, for their names aren’t Romney and Lauber, but Pentheus and Dionysus, and the lines they speak come from Nicholas Rudall’s 1996 translation of Euripides’ tragedy The Bacchae.
The more things change, the more they seem to echo the Greeks these days, what with public mistrust of upstart theologies, warring states that can’t see eye-to-eye, and tantrums by politicos leading to calamities great and small. Pentheus’ snit over the girly-boy he thinks he sees before him will cost him dearly as the young god’s followers tear the arrogant politician literally to pieces.
Jeremy Pace’s languorously seductive Dionysus is a fine foil for Elliott Kashner’s frat boy of a Pentheus, both men preening like movie stars and playing to the crowd. And Steven Scott Mazzola’s staging for WSC Avant Bard surrounds them with startling images at Artisphere: a chorus cavorting as the floor beneath them lights up with twinkling stars; severed limbs coalescing into the huge golden visage of a god. Throbbingly catchy music by Mariano Vales helps the director turn this Bacchae into tragedy of an oddly vibrant, antic sort–almost an ancient Greek Godspell–so brimming with song and so powered by Aysha Upchurch’s floor-pounding choreography that for much of its length it seems disinterested in the horrors of its plot.
They will arrive nonetheless, first in an unnervingly explicit report by a slave (Jim Jorgensen) who’s watched Bacchic revels turn to savagery, and then in the person of a mother (MiRan Powell) who thinks she’s carrying a lion’s head home from a hunt, when it’s actually the head she has severed from her own son’s body, seemingly in mid-scream.
And if the evening doesn’t make those moments as shattering as it might, it still leaves audiences with plenty to chew on–the power of the state versus the power of a god, worship that approaches madness, arrogance as its own punishment. Euripides lived in a society of unforgiving strictures and dire consequences. A sizable public feels that way about our own age. Take lessons where you will.