Between Feb. 10 and 13, Theatre St. Thomas put on an adaptation of The Bacchae in STU’s Black Box Theatre. The Bacchae explores the extremes of morality of the human condition where movement, music and gender come together in a tragedy.
The Greek classic first premiered in 405 BC, centering around two opposite forces that clash together in a calamity where the king of Thebes is killed by his mother, who is under a spell by Dionysus, the god of ritual, madness and wine.
This play explores two sides of human nature. One is conservative and rational, represented by king Pentheus, ruler of Thebes, played by Miguel Roy. The other is the impulsive and passionate side represented by god Dionysus, played by Alex Rioux.
“When Pentheus and Dionysus meet, there is that electric tension between them that is quite beautiful,” said Lisa Anne Ross, the director of the play.
Ross says we live in a complicated moral time where the extremes of morality never leave.
“The people in a world landscape that make up the news are the people who take part in those extremes, and those people are not necessarily the ones who cause any good in our world,” she said.
The character of Dionysus, in his extremity, has created great pain to prove that he is a god that should be worshiped. On the other hand, the character of Pentheus, by ignoring the desire for passion, falls into the conservative idea of rationality.
“Together the two men cause the calamity, they are equal partners in the crime,” said Ross.
She says extremism never leads to any good and that is not what moves the world forward in a positive direction, whether is Muslim or Christian extremism, conservatism or liberalism.
The Bacchae explores a burlesque rave culture where taking extremes is damaging and destructive, where sexual fluidity and extravagant customs allow actors to explore where they might want to fall in the gender spectrum.
Ross says that in modern times, the confronting issue of gender has become a topical thing.
“I cast people in the chorus… we don’t name them, we do not need to know what they are,” she said.
As a Greek God, Dionysus is portrayed as a ‘him’ but in this play it is really a ‘they’.
“They occupy a magical spectrum of gender which I think is wonderful,” said Ross.
Ignoring gender as a label in the play brings contemporary times to something that was first premiered thousands of years ago.
Costumes were sensual and provocative, primarily consisting of all black and red. They represented Dionysus’ desire for passion. On the other hand, Pentheus wore white showing his purity and authority.
The Bacchae shows how two extremes of human nature cannot be ignored to accept the human reality of its condition. The play shows how by ignoring our passions or our rationality leads to a destructive force of morality.