Written by Patrick Chavis
The Bacchae is a Greek story about gods and humanity, and it covers a lot of ground in a very short amount of time. Managing to cover that ground without producting a contrived theatrical piece full of long monologues is a monumental challenge. Director David Scaglione tries to overcome this struggle through the creative use of shadows, puppets, and live actors. While I believe Scaglione is on the right track, The Bacche’s lack of restraint and focus in specific technical areas distracts from the story’s impact.
The Bacchae is a Greek tragedy set in the city of Thebes. Pentheus is a stubborn, arrogant king who defies the demi-god Dionysus, whose divinity he refuses to accept. In retaliation, after many attempts to show mercy, Dionysus creates a plan to embarrass and harm Pentheus .
This is the type of story that’s been around for centuries. Although made of classic material, it’s not a stretch to say a lot of The Bacchae is very heavy handed. What I mean is, The Bacchae’s characters are archetypes with very little subtlety. King Pentheus is stubborn and unwise. Dionysus is a powerful god but lacking in insight about those weaker then him. And Cadmus, the grandfather, is the often ignored voice of reason, which leads to a horrible tragedy.
The shadow puppet artistry used in the show is very entertaining. So much so, I wish the entire show was composed of shadow puppets. Instead it was only used for certain moments of the show that would have been hard to recreate on stage. The rest of the cast were puppeteers dressed in black, and a normal actor played Dionysus (Evan Stechauner). I loved the puppets, and they fit in quite well with their shadowy counterparts. The same story was being told through both mediums, but I feel with some clever staging the elements could have been more intertwined. As the show stands now, there are some funny moments with puppets, and then we get to see something unique on the shadow board. Although Stechauner’s performance was admirable, the charm we can attribute to the puppets just being puppets does not work with a regular actor, so it felt off that they didn’t use a puppet for Dionysus as well.
Technically speaking the use of lighting would have increased the dread and authenticity of the scenes with the puppets. The reason the puppeteers are wearing black in the first place is to blend in with the scene. It’s hard for them to blend into the backdrop when the puppets are not spotlighted or lit to bring more attention to the characters. Instead the audience sees a bright stage full of puppets and people in black suits.
The puppets are well designed, and the actors voicing them do a wonderful job breathing life into their actions. This production of The Bacchae is a truly abridged version, so a lot of great visual moments are merely mentioned instead of being shown. Too little story and not enough focus on the successful elements left me wanting more.
November 20, and 21 @ 7:30 p.m.
November 22 at 2:30 p.m.
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The cast (in order of appearance)
Followers of Dionysus: Talon Stradley, James Reiss, Hope Miller, Brian Soto and Chris Tom Agaua voiced/puppeteer: Miranda Lennert and Hope Miller
The God Dionysus: Evan Stechauner
King Pentheus voiced/puppeteer: Cody Aaron Hanify and Seth Aguirre and Talon Stradley Cadmus voiced/puppeteer: Christopher Diem
Blind Teiresias voiced /puppeteer: Talon Stradley and Chris Tom
King’s Guard voiced/puppeteer: James Reiss
The Herdsman voiced/puppeteer: Seth Aguirre and Brian Soto