The Bacchae 2.1 a thought-provoking and evocative performance

UBC Theatre’s newest creation comes with a warning -- and for good reason. Bacchae 2.1, directed by MFA Theatre student Dennis Gupa is a shocking, thought provoking, wonderfully artistic piece of theatre, which left the audience on opening night first speechless, then unable to contain their admiration, earning a standing ovation and well deserved praise.

An adaptation of Euripides’ The Bacchae, Charles Mee’s Bacchae 2.1 sets the Greek drama in a contemporary period and tells the tale of Pentheus, played by BFA acting student Matt Kennery, Dionysius, BFA acting student Thomas Elms and the women of the mountains. This is not a play one can simply sit back and relax through, however. The complex speeches and at times difficult subject matter ensure the audience is kept alert and concentrated.

The Bacchae 2.1 could be used as an example of all the questions prevalent in today’s society about the meanings of gender, sex and freedom. Mee’s script highlights important subjects through huge contrasts between Pentheus, Dionysius and the women, switching at times from lines of hilarity, to vulgarity, to sincerity -- quickly silencing the audiences’ laughter.

The storyline of the play appears, in all sense of the basic forms, to be completely Greek. There is a traditional chorus, played by 10 women who transform into their real selves when in the mountains. Through a series of monologues, the audience gets perhaps the most honest and raw insights into the deepest parts of a woman’s soul.

Certainly, some parts of The Bacchae 2.1 are shocking and unexpected. Some graphic, almost brutal energies transcend upon the audience, yet the realities of these sentiments hold strong. Making use of hyperbole to the point of hilarity, one must watch and embrace Gupa’s production with an open mind, saving any conclusions until the end.

Kiara Lawson’s costumes are a memorable element of the play. Drawing on elements of the ethereal, magical and supernatural, the transformation from women in black to individual women shows immense creativity and flair. The costumes make the production difficult to place in time, placing the world of Pentheus and Dionysius into somewhere completely unfamiliar. This is a play about transformations and dualities, and these themes are completely embraced through these costumes.

Drawing on Gupa’s Filipino roots, the majority of the music throughout the production was live, performed by actors and musicians upstage. The use of strings and percussion was prevalent in the strangeness of the happenings, and was effective in highlighting and emphasizing the actors’ words and movements, rather than detracting from them or appearing as an act of their own. Seamless in its transitions and quick to transform hilarity into sincerity, the entire connectedness of human, animal and monster gives light to the human condition and topics so important as we move forwards.

The play seems unlike a piece of university theatre, but more a work of art. It dismantles polarization of genders and the human condition, yet the brutality of the words and descriptions give you all the feelings. Feelings of joy, of despair for the human condition, pity, longing -- it’s all there throughout the play, but moving quickly leaves you no time to address and take in what shocking lines or opinions you’ve just heard.

50 Shades has nothing on Gupa’s production. This is not the sort of play you can explain to somebody else, it’s the sort of play you must see for yourself. You need to experience the insane, wild world of the women in the mountains, the hilarious but strikingly familiar views of the men and the innovative lighting and sound technology from Eric Chad and Kate De Lorme. You will come away with maybe more questions than you entered with, but with a sense of invigoration, a sense of duty and a mind buzzing with all sorts of issues which are so important in our culture today, not just in our small world at UBC, but everywhere.