There are times when I forget what a treasure 7 Stages is for bold, daring, often esoteric theatre in Atlanta.
Then I’ll see a show like Brecht and Weill’s legendary “Threepenny Opera” (2016) or “Hidden Man” (2012) and be blown away.
Now we are going back to the ancient Greeks, where Western drama began about 2400 years ago, for a hypnotic, sensual, scary production of Euripides’ “The Bacchae,” here called “The Followers,” running through February 25. It is directed by Michael Haverty and retold in a world premiere by Atlanta playwright Margaret Baldwin, who co-directed.
Euripides, you may recall, was one of ancient Greece’s three great tragedians, along with Sophocles and Aeschylus; and “The Bacchae” is his most mythological work, examining forces that lurk in the unconscious. On a personal note, Euripides and I go way back: When I was ten, my parents took me to an outdoor college production of his bloodcurdling “Medea.” It was thrilling; I’ve been a theatre geek ever since.
7 Stages’ program notes say that “The Followers” combines opera, dance, puppetry, and theatre to tell a timeless story of blind faith, abuse of power, and the tragic cycle of vengeance. I’m happy to tell you that the show is wonderfully theatrical, with Dionysus (Ofir Nahari), god of wine and ecstasy, swooping down from the ceiling, determined to prove he is a god (son of Zeus, no less), despite having a mortal mother.
Every inch of 7 Stages’ smaller theatre is used, so that the three-quarter round audience is totally enveloped in a seductive ambience. Composer/performer Klimchak is perched near the ceiling, providing terrific, exotic music as only he can. The painted stage floor works magically with Rebecca Makus’ lighting. I’d tell you who the scenic designer is, but it’s unclear. It may be Austin Kunis, who’s given “scenic charge” credit; but there are three scenic artists (Victoria Hood, Syd Hayes, Ofir Nahari) and five scenography concept people. It’s Greek to me, but the set draws you in with theatrical magic and mystery.
Director Haverty notes that “ ‘The Bacchae’ contains a sharp critique of Athens’ political and spiritual leadership, as well as those citizens who blindly follow them to their own detriment. Can we not take a lesson from this ancient text, and seek to know the true faces of our own leaders?” What could he be talking about? 7 Stages is eminently topical; it’s a touchstone of their philosophy.
The cast is outstanding: Pentheus, Lowrey Brown; Agave, Diany Rodriguez (both of these are fine singers as well); Cadmus, Stephen Devillers; Tiresias, Nicolette Emanuelle; Autonae, Anna Haworth; Ino, Abagail Dawkins; Semele/Securitas, Laura Reboulet; and Dorothy V. Bell-Polk.
When the Greeks performed their tragedies, the choruses often danced in ritualistic fashion from one side of the stage to the other. That’s exactly what happens in “The Followers,” particularly in one thrilling sequence. This play asks that its actors be total performers, and they are.
The play does not have a linear, “well-made” plot in the sense that, say, Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” does. Euripides was the most modern of the ancient tragedians, plying his art in the twilight of the Golden Age. But as you watch the followers of Dionysus question the action and intentions of their once charismatic leader, you begin to understand why the ancient Greeks took their plays and festivals seriously. An inexplicable feeling of almost religious involvement starts to creep up on the audience. The theatre gods are smiling—that is, as long as you bring your total attention to the proceedings.
The play is performed in 95 riveting minutes; it’s unlike anything you’ll see in Atlanta this year.
The choreography is by Ofir Nahari; costume design, DeeDee Chmielewski; the music director is Diliana Slavona; assistant director is A. Julian Verner.
If you’re a true theatre lover, you know that the Greeks started it all. 7 Stages knows it; they’ll show you if you catch this show while you can.
For tickets and information, visit 7Stages.org.