BACCHAE—AN ELECTRONIC OPERA
Screaming Weenie Productions
Open Studio, 252 East 1st Ave.
January 18 - 29
This is one sweet idea. Take Euripides’ classic Greek
tragedy about the conflict between reason and passion, repression
and sex, restraint and wine-fuelled debauchery, and set it in
a club to the pounding, hypnotic electronic beat of house music.
Put the actors in among the audience and have them sing the story.
While uptight King Pentheus angrily shouts, “My kingdom
is not a nightclub,” the god of ecstasy himself, Dionysus,
invites us to “open up, open up” and dance. Yeah,
we’re gonna fight for our right to par-ty! Meanwhile, Pentheus’ conflicted
mother Agave chooses the way of funk and feminism. She joins
the Bacchae, the followers of Dionysus, singing, “I made
my choice, I found my voice,” but in the end inadvertently
tears her own son to pieces.
Hot stuff, aided by some great voices and DJ Tracey Draper’s
wicked beats. So why doesn’t it work better?
For all their smart choices, director Ilena Lee Cramer and her
company with its Dionysian name, Screaming Weenie, have made
some serious conceptual mistakes in remounting this show (previously
produced at Sonar in 2003) for the PuSh Festival. The
Bacchae remains the most adaptable of the great Greek plays because its
central conflict is so familiar and contemporary. The clash between
social order and personal liberation is directly embodied in
the figures of Pentheus and Dionysus.
But here, the two remain on opposite sides of the room, never
interacting. Dionysus seems almost a secondary character. The
focus is more on Agave and the androgynous seer Teiresias, who
regularly interrupts the main action to point out how it resembles
other Greek stories, stories that are nearly impossible to follow.
Even knowing the myths and their characters, I found it hard
to figure out what was going on.
As well, the six actor-singers are constricted in steel cages
around the perimeter of the room, elevated above the dance floor,
isolated from each other and the audience. So there’s no
transfer of Dionysian ecstasy—the emotion, not the drug—despite
the powerful music. The night I saw it, hardly anyone was even
As Dionysus, Troy Jackson is fantastically striking and criminally
underutilized. In a long denim skirt, bare-chested with a shaven
head, Jackson has Prince-like R&B dynamism and a killer voice.
Deanna Teeple’s Agave gives the god a good run for his
money, powering righteously through her songs. The other singers
(Rachel Flood, Brendan McLeod, Christine Stoddard, RC Weslowski)
provide effective counterpoint, and the DJ and her crew in the
centre of the floor pump out the volume. Together they almost,
but not quite, get us boogying with the Bacchae.