In The Bacchae, Euripides relies on messengers and the chorus to relate what’s taking place on Mt. Cithaeron, where the frenzied women of Thebes—under the influence of Dionysus—have gone to get drunk, get naked, tear wild animals apart with their bare hands and otherwise freak out the menfolk. In this revisionist retelling of the tragedy, director Nathan Robbel puts these orgiastic rites front and center. No longer are the women possessed by a god out for revenge against the Theban ruler, Pentheus; instead, they’re looking to escape the controlling men in their lives.
As a result, much of the show feels like an outdoor self-empowerment workshop led by New Age types. “I came to let my beast free,” says one bacchante. “I came to sing lost songs,” says another. There are some lovely passages early on about throwing off the obligations imposed on them and getting back to nature, and Robbel cleverly stages an orgy seen only in flashes of light from a match. But once the celebration gets going in earnest, all the chanting, moaning, breast beating and breast baring quickly grow tedious. The fact that 19 cast members (some of whom go nude for nearly the entire show) have been crammed into the Right Brain Project’s tiny space adds an appropriate element of chaos but also turns the production into a crowded muddle. Euripides gets lost in a tangle of writhing limbs.