If there is only one thing the ancient Greeks taught us, it is that tragedy is universal. The stories told by Euripides and friends often involve Gods and mythical creatures, but in the end the tragedy stems from a brutal, and often preventable loss of life. In the case of The Bacchae, Agave, daughter of Cadmus, king of Thebes, brutally murdered her son, Pentheus, by ripping him limb from limb and carrying his severed head while in a fit of madness. A few thousand years later, Oystein “Euronymus” Aarseth, lead guitarist of the band Mayhem, was killed by bassist Varg Vikernes, courtesy of several stab wounds, including one fatal one to the forehead. This too was a tragedy, but due to its occurring in the dark world of Metal, and in far away Scandinavia, is much lesser known.
Enter the Rebellious Players, with their own keen new look at an old tale through the lens of Black Metal, a little known branch of music, especially to traditional DC theatergoers. The result is a Bacchanalia that is darker and more erotic than we usually see. The women who worship Bromios are clad in skimpy red dresses and fishnet stockings, made up with corpsepaint and crimson eye liner, and exuding an air of sensual mayhem that would have made Euronymus proud. At their head is an enormous white-faced Dionysus, sporting a Viking helmet, spiked gauntlets, a serious pair of combat boots, and a cutoff shirt, promoting the latest Nyphamphetamine album (Yes, they are a real band). The Mysteries are scary, conjuring images of bloody mosh pits at GWAR concerts, but also seductive, especially in the eyes of the cell-phone wielding Pentheus and his fellow Yuppie Thebans.
The performances were excellent. On the whole, aside from a bit of gratuitous tennis-racket-air-guitar in the beginning, the actors managed to stay true to the text and tell the story, rather than force the concept down people’s throats. Lawrence was a standout, portraying the God much like a true Metal frontman: disinterested in human affairs not concerning him, but at the same time able to bring about a larger than life wrath when disrespected. Pentheus, played by Jack Powers, is solid, especially in his late madness, and the women do a tremendous job of keeping the story driving. My one gripe was the sonic world of the play did not contain as much Black Metal as I would have hoped, especially when the visual landscape created was so vivid. At the end of the day this retelling is a strong, new way of looking at an old play, and a way to access a musical tradition that is often ignored.
- Running time: 60 minutes
- Tickets: Euripedes’ The Bacchae
- Remaining Shows: Sat, July 26 at 10:30 . Sun, July 27 at 2:30
- Where: Flashpoint, 916 G Street, NW