Theatre department brings Greek Gods to life

NKU’s opening night production of The Bacchae was an exciting, sensual experience that left the audience mesmerized and certainly people were talking about it.

This classic Greek tragedy by Euripides follows the journey of the god Dionysus who has come to his hometown of Thebes to prove his divinity. Dionysus was born to the god Zeus and the mortal Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, king of Thebes.

We enter the play when Cadmus has abdicated the throne to his grandson, Pentheus, who has rejected Dionysus as a god. The logical Pentheus doesn’t understand the cult of women who worship the god of wine and indulge their passions. Thus we see the power struggle of passion and reason that echoes throughout this centuries-old play and still resonates with audiences today.

The sensual nature of the play is communicated early through the provocative dances the Bacchae women perform. It made me feel uncomfortable at times sitting feet away from women writhing on the floor and panting heavily. From listening to others during the intermission, the audience either loved it or hated it. Still, I would suggest not bringing children to this play.

The throne of Pentheus, placed across from the wine barrels of Dionysus, further demonstrated the struggle between reason and passion. Pentheus is appalled at the irresponsible behavior of the Bacchae which he deems inappropriate, but at the same time he is intrigued at their carefree revelries and secretly wishes to join them.

Instead of a traditional proscenium stage most audiences are familiar with, Director Sandra Forman chose to use a thrust stage which places the audience around the actors. I loved this choice because it felt true to the text and allowed the audience to become participants with the actors rather than just observers. I also appreciated the simple stage dressing that forced the audience to rely on the actors to paint the scenes.

Forman also chose to break up the lines of the chorus, which are traditionally spoken in unison, to allow the women a chance to develop their characters as individuals rather than only being seen as a group. Each of the chorus women did a marvelous job bringing life to their character and portraying the freedom these women felt taking control of their own lives.

The messengers, played by Clayton Winstead and Garth Whitaker, were also a director adaptation. Originally written as a single messenger, Forman broke up the tediously long monologue and allowed the two men to converse and even play off one another, which made their descriptions come to life. I was entertained as they described the Bacchae revelry and completely enthralled when they told of the death of Pentheus.

Pentheus, played by Hunter Henrickson, was a joy to watch as he commanded the stage against Dionysus, played by Matt Krieg in his gold costume and sparkly hair. When Pentheus took to the stage dressed as a woman in order to spy on the Bacchae, the audience erupted in laughter as the stern, rule-bound king let loose and gave in to passion.

Later, my eyes teared as Agave, played by Sarah Alice Shull, shrieked in terror when she realized she was holding her son’s severed head. I began to feel sympathy for the people whose lives were being tormented by the vengeful god, and as a mother myself I internalized Agave’s pain.
In the end, cast and crew brought to life this Greek classic and made it accessible to a modern audience. They showed us how far we as a society have come since Euripides put pen to paper and yet, some things will always stay the same.