EURIPEDES IN THE WEHO
THE BACCHAE AT CELEBRATION THEATRE
The Celebration Theatre’s artistic director Michael Matthews and the company’s literary manager Allain Rochel have conspired to bring Euripides into WeHo with their brazen re-imagining of the classic Greek epic The Bacchae, first presented in the fourth century BC, shortly after the playwright’s death.
In The Bacchae, Euripides’ Greek Chorus was made up of devout female worshippers of Dionysus the god had enraptured into a sexual frenzy and brought with him from Asia to worshipfully do his bidding. Rochel has cleverly adapted The Bacchae to offer a Chorus made up instead of five scantily-clad hot young Boys’ Town club kids seemingly plucked right off the dance floor at Rage, conspiring all along the way with director Matthews to bring the story—and its relevance to modernday politics and warmongering—into our modern and equally dysfunctional world.
The Bacchae is a spectacular achievement for the Celebration, with starkly angular and incredibly inventive staging by Matthews and a graffiti-overrun environmental design by Kurt Boetcher that continues through the theatre’s playing space and spilling into the audience. They have also drawn together a spectacular cast, headed by the ever-steadfast Michael A. Shepperd as a bellowing, half-beastly, half-queeny Dionysus, giving a richly defining performance to cap all the others he’s offered LA audiences over the past few years. The campy Bobby Reed, looking like a fugitive from an old Andy Warhol movie as an aging bare beer-bellied, leather-garbed Tireseas, and Daryl Keith Roach as the eventually hoodwinked Cadmus, are wonderful in scenes together that could be playing out at the French Quarter Marketplace. Still, it is Michael Tauzin in his exceptionally promising LA stage debut as Quintus who offers the most memorable moments, particularly in one movingly heartfelt monologue relating the horribly bloody assassination of his lover.
Perhaps the only downside to this auspicious world premiere is that it’s still a tad short of ready for performance. The concept of bringing The Bacchae into our contemporary times is a worthy one, especially the adaptor’s idea that there are “strong parallels” to the gay community’s “reluctance to examine what it is to be gay outside of a sexual context,” as Rochel addresses in his program notes. “If we are to expect new results, we must challenge these ideas in new ways,” he writes, “taking them head-on instead of existing outside a moral and social structure.”
The suggestion of this theme permeates The Bacchae, however, only on a peripheral level still at this point; the adaptation must be brought more solidly into an examination of our modern situation, not just hinted at to “justify an interpretive scheme,” as Rochel admits. Obviously, the talent is there to do just that and the existence of this perfectly moldable raw ancient theatrical material is there for the taking. A little more development and this almost-there retelling of The Bacchae could be a stunning undertaking rather than just a really, really good one.
The Celebration is located at 7051-B Santa Monica Bl., Hollywood; for tickets, call (323) 957-1884.