This weekend is a weekend full of theatre and I can’t feel better about it!
We kicked things off last night with The Bacchae at club Oberon.
There are a few fundamental issues in presenting Greek theatre to a contemporary audience. I have been known to argue that Greek tragedy is actually unperformable in the United States today (for further thoughts on this or to participate in this argument, buy me a drink sometime). This production was one of those rare gems of exception – if you absolutely have to perform Greek tragedy, you should perform it like this.
The environment at Oberon (and the immersive dance-club stage space) sets the tone for interaction. There’s not anywhere to hide from Dionysus’ maenads and you are caught up in the ritual just as much as the one sacrificial audience plant whom Dionysus makes his own in the play’s beginning. Audience members are crowned with ivy and given drums to play as they enter the space and are subsequently invited to participate fully in the ritual they are about to witness.
Because of this, the long chorus speeches become exhilarating. The maenads bop and weave through the audience, menacing and caressing, inviting you to be a part of their world for a time. There is no passive listening (which is the death of long speeches). These interludes, alienating on a tradition stage, thus become a point of access for the audience.
Another thing that this production has working in its favor is the traditional Oberon performance length (ninety minutes). By trimming the wordy Greekness of this down to a palatable length, The Bacchae doesn’t have the opportunity to lose its audience. You’re either caught up in the flow of the action, or you’re drinking at the bar (sometimes both but there is no in between).
The one thing I would have liked to see tweaked slightly is the token use of
masks. In this production. As each character is introduced, he enters wearing a “Greek-style”* mask. The mask is removed before each character speaks, done away with, and never seen again. The trouble I have with this convention is its uselessness. If it was meant as a nod at Greek theatrical practice (we do know that in the Greek theatre all characters wore masks), that’s wonderful, but if you’re just going to wear it to do away with it you may as well not wear it and save your costumer the time and expense of acquiring it. I would have liked to see the masks return at the end and create a sort of “framing device” for the piece. Just as Dionysus is introduced wearing his full pan horns which are then dispatched with only to be seen at the play’s very end, the beautiful masks should have made a re-appearance.
As to the non-traditional staging elements demanded by the performance space at Oberon, historically they’re not actually all that non-traditional. We can’t say overmuch for certain about Greek theatre, but we do know that the Greek theatrical space consisted of a stage area (scholars debate about whether this was a raised platform or not) and an orchestra where the chorus performed (again, HUGE debates about the shape and size of the orchestra). The floor plan of Club Oberon is essentially this. There is a stage (which, at Oberon, is a raised platform) and a dance floor in front of it (for the purposes of our Greek analogy, this can serve as an orchestra). Of course, in Greece we have no record of the audience mingling with the chorus (as happens at Oberon), but since I can now check “be kissed by Dionysus” off my bucket list, I can definitely overlook this breach in historical protocol.
The Bacchae is, unfortunately, done. They closed last night (I know, I know, I need to get to things earlier in their run).
Here’s a list of things I’m going to be seeing in the near future that HAVEN’T closed. I can’t vouch for their quality yet, of course, but if you want to get some theatre in this summer you have plenty of options:
Caucasian Chalk Circle by Apollinaire Theatre Company – free, in the park. Hitting this tonight.
Richard II and Love’s Labour’s Lost at Shakespeare and Company – making my yearly pilgrimage to Lennox tomorrow which, incidentally, is the last performance of Richard though Love’s Labour’s runs a bit longer.
Much Ado About Nothing presented by Arts Art Hours in Lynne Woods — I have some friends in the cast and I love this show, so I really can’t see it being bad. It’s a strolling production. Outside. That at least should be interesting.
Romeo and Juliet by Arlington Center for the Arts — free, outside Shakespeare; can’t get more pleasant than that. Only one performance though so if you are interested, you should check it out.
Psycho Beach Party by Counter-productions theatre — it’s a contemporary piece but has a really interesting name… and I have a friend who keeps saying I should go. So I’m going.
Cinderella by Boston Opera Collaborative — they say that this piece is being performed “authentically” i.e. true to period style. We’ll see about that… either way, great for comps!
Why Torture is Wrong and the People who Love them by Titanic Theatre Project — sometimes you just need some Christopher Durang to bring levity to a situation.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all theatre happening in Boston right now, just some things that are on my calendar. Stay cool!!
*I put this in quotation marks because there’s no real way for us to ascertain authentic Greek-style masks; none are extant and the flaws of relying on pottery paintings as historiographical evidence have often been expounded upon by scholars. As such, the masks were certainly what you as a modern playgoer with some idea of Greek theatrical practice, would expect to see… but I can’t really call them “authentic”.