(Carly Maga’s article appeared in the Toronto Star, 6/17.)
Written by Euripides. Adapted and translated by Anne Carson. Directed by Jillian Keiley. Until Sept. 23 at the Tom Patterson Theatre, 111 Lakeside Dr., Stratford. StratfordFestival.ca, 1-800-567-1600.
Is that a deep red leaf painted onto the stage of the Tom Patterson Theatre in Stratford, Ont. … or is that what I think it is?
In Jillian Keiley’s production of Bakkhai (otherwise known as Euripides’ The Bacchae), using the 2015 version adapted by Canadian poet Anne Carson, the double meaning of Shawn Kerwin’s set as both a representation of nature as well as female sexuality instantly demonstrates the director’s approach to this classic Greek tragedy. It transforms these two elements into one and the same: organic, primal, brutal if it needs to be. They are forever under the attempted control of man or mankind (this is a blazingly contemporary play, if not only for its discussion of sexual politics but also for the way man’s relationship to global warming is still somehow considered a debate).
There’s a reason why Dionysos holds his Bacchanalian rituals on mountaintops, uses a thyrsus staff of ivy and pine cones, and encourages his followers to drape themselves in grapevines. He also orchestrates the climax of Bakkhai to occur among the trees of Mount Cithaeron, bringing the doomed King Pentheus from the protection of the city and quite deliberately out of his element, into the elements.