This past Thursday, I went to see Dionysus in '69 at the Art Space in New York city.
Dionysus in '69 is the Rude Mechs' attempted re-staging of the 1968 adaptation of the Bacchae, a classic late-'60s "happening"/"freak out" take on Euripides' source material. The original production included many aspects that were groundbreaking at the time: nudity, man-kissing, fake tribal rites, and lots of audience participation. Original productions could go wildly off-script, with actors leading the cast out onto the New York City rooftops, or with Pentheus getting saved from his eventual doom by being carried bodily from the theater by a crowd of sympathetic audience members.
But this performance was at an upscale theater in New York in 2012, and it had a well-behaved audience befitting that setting. The lead actor said explicitly that the audience could participate in any way they felt comfortable. Then they started a big tribal-music number, lots of noises, heavily rhythmic. I happily started tapping on the platform I sat on, in time with the music. After thirty seconds or so, I looked around at the rest of the audience, who were making no. noise. whatsoever. None of them even swayed a bit with this heavy, straightforward rhythm.
And honestly, the rest of the show was characterized by this sharp divide between the audience and the cast. They didn't make any noise. They barely interacted with cast members who came around to talk to them. God forbid should they actually get on stage. It was like they thought the show was this delicate little glass flower, and the slightest strain would shatter it.
It was baffling. If that's how you view theater, why are you coming to see Dionysus in '69?
The show was pleasant enough. It was interesting to see how they worked the nudity into the show -- they got undressed in a very casual, unaffected manner for a "birth rite" at the top of the show. This made the nudity seem like it wasn't a big deal, not something to go nuts about, but rather that it was just part of the show, like another costume. The way they playfully flip between playing their characters and playing themselves (actors doing a show) was really endearing. The big, emotional moments were very affecting.
At the same time, you couldn't help but feel like the show was pumping out this anarchic, 60s energy, and it hit the front row of audience, and it just hit a wall there.
Mood: contemplative · Music: none