EURIPEDES IN THE WEHO

EURIPEDES IN THE WEHO

THE BACCHAE AT CELEBRATION THEATRE

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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.

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TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing.

www.travismichaelholder.com

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