In The Realm of Dionysos
A page devoted to the God of the Divine Madness, of Ecstacy, of the Grape and of the Theater!
Here we will post our reviews of plays and films and other renderings of our beloved ancient performing arts; perhaps of wines (if someone wants to contribute the reviews); and here we will post announcements of performances forthcoming, so that all may have a chance to participate in the katharsis which is the great gift of the God.
It would help if you would e-mail us with announcements of upcoming plays and other performances relevent to our topic. A film, an opera, a rock and roll extravaganza: anything you think would please the God to have done in His name.
We will post here, at the top, so that what you read first will be the most recent. You will be able to move down the page and read what has come before, like moving back through the river of memory; and perhaps, with the blessing of the God, you will sometime become lost to the concerns of self and, we hope, discover this place to be a pleasant retreat from the rest of the world.
May 14, 2001: We continue to discover how different is the medium of the Net from that of the Printed Word! It becomes obvious that this page presents problems with Time. We want to list upcoming performances, and we also want to review them. You, the reader, will want the listing of upcoming performances right at the top, most likely; but if we then go down to that listing after we have seen the play, to review it. chances are you will miss the review.
We are going to try the following solution: we will add a review page, with links to this listings here. Thus you will be able to go down the page, look at the listing, and link to the review; or, you will be able to go to the reviews directly from the Thiasos Olympikos menu and read about what we have seen.
Need we add that we are relatively local, and that we would appreciate reviews from other reviewers in other locales? The idea here is to provide a body of data concerning these materials that the Hellenic community may use as a benchmark. Various universities have set up such pages, but they have proved, so far, to be 'projects.' As soon as the student who did the work went on to the next course, the page was abandoned, and thus became no more than an occasionally interesting artifact.
Hopefully, this new approach will be useful.
April 13th - May 12th, 2007
Lysistrata, by Ellen McLaughlin, Based on the play by Aristophanes, Directed by Noona Nolan.
This production is being presented by Actors Ensemble of Berkeley, in Berkeley California, at Live Oak Theater.
We got the information a little late, but there is still time to see it. The e-dressed connnected with it are:
and the telephone numbers connected with it are:
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, tickets are $12
Thursday, May 10th show, Students and Seniors get in for $10
The show is presented in One Act, and there will be No Late Entry
20 February 2002
Shotgun Players, which last year gave us Iphigenia In Aulis for free in the park is this year continuing a committment to the Hellenic Plays with a production of the Medea of Euripides, in the translation by Robinson Jeffers; which proved such a triumphant vehicle for Judith Anderson. It won't be the 'free in the park' part of the company's repertoire, but never mind. Shotgun has more than proved it is worth the price of admission for anything it produces.
Medea is, without question, the single greatest role ever written for an actress. Perhaps that is why it is the most frequently produced of the Ancient plays. The opportunity to portray a woman of passionate nature, emotionally ripped apart and carried beyond anything people normally experience, must be the ultimate achievement for any woman of the theater.
If you have never seen this play, by all means find the money to see it. You will surely remember it longer than anything the expensive cable channel has to offer. If you have seen it: remember, a play is different with evey production, and especially with every actress.
Shotgun, now beginning its 10th Season, has a new, permanent home at the Allston Street Theater in the new GAIA Building in Downtown Berkeley. The season this year consists of "A Fairy's Tail," "Medea," "Abingdon Square," "El Libro de Buel Amor," (The free in the park offering this season), "We Won't Pay, We Won't Pay!" and "A Picture of Dorian Gray." There are no dates in the brochure, but the website is www.shotguntplayers.org. The phone number is 510-704-8210
Great News In the First Month of 2001!
The San Francisco Bay Area will be Tragedy Friendly this year with the promise of no less than five productions. The brilliant Shotgun Players have promised us Iphigenia in Aulis, written by Euripides, directed by Patrick Dooley, and performed for free at John Hinkel Park in Berkeley and John McLaren Park in San Francisco.
According to the brochure, there will be previews on June 22 & 23, Opening June 24, Through August 12. No performances on July 14th or 15th.
We also learn that there will be special shows at dawn!
Though we don't get told which or when or where about those dawn shows. I sure hope they aren't all at dawn; for your reviewer that would be truly tragic!
In case you are not familiar with this play (most people only know it from the operatic version): this is the one about the events just before Agamemnon sets sail for the Trojan War; and which set in motion the horrors of the Oresteia. --With regard to the Oresteia, more a little later down the page.
If you page down from here you will find our review of the splendid Bacchae which Shotgun did, and our unqualified recommendation of the company's accomplishment.
There is a note in the brochure about how they sometimes have to makes changes of schedule, and how they advise you to check their website every day. I don't know if you have to go that far, but I do recommend that you check their website for more details. This is a very, very good company, and your support may very well constitute an offering to the God of Actors. Check out Shotgun at their website:
In April, or get on their Mailing List if you are in Virginia or nearbye:
Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, VA, is producing its annual Greek Play (20-22 April). This year's play is Iphegenia at Aulis. (If you are in California, see the Shotgun Players production info below.)
The play will be performed in as close to ancient conditions as possible, including three actors for the named roles, a singing and dancing chorus, and the fact that all the roles will be played by members of one sex (women in this case; as Dr. Cohen, the director, says, 'Turn about is fair play') It will be performed in the Dell, R-MWC's open air, built-into-the-side-of-the-hill Greek amphitheatre.
This may be one of the best chances to see ancient theatre under ancient conditions in the New World. I (Viator) will be there on Saturday if anyone wants to try to meet up.
For more information on the R-MWC Greek Play tradition, this year's play, driving directions, etc, check out http://www.rmwc.edu/greekplay
Our thanks for this listing to Viator. If you want to meet up, send us e-mail and we will try to forward it.
Also in the Shotgun brochure is mention that the Berkeley Repertory Theater will inaugurate its new space (it started in a store front, built a splendid theater downtown, and is now adding a new theater, and all since the early 70s!) with Aeschylus' Oresteia!
The three plays that comprise the trilogy will be performed on two evenings, with Agamemnon on the first and The Libation Bearers and The Furies on the second. The translation is by Robert Fagle, whose excellent translations of Homer are commented upon elsewhere on this website.
The dates of the run are March 4th through May 6th. Tickets run from $35 for the preview performances though $51 for the Saturday night shows; but there are substantial discounts for Seniors and Students, and there is a program of $15 tickets for persons under Age 30 (lucky you!)
Berkeley Rep won a Tony a couple of years ago as Best Regional Theater, and is possibly the Bay Area's best professional company. One has a right to expect the best from the company, especially as these performances will be the first in the new theater.
In addition to the Oresteia, the Rep is also staging, in its old theater next door, a play called Big Love, by Charles Mee. We are told that it is an adaptation of Aeschylus' The Suppliant Women. We are also told that it is a cross between a poetry slam and a dance riot. The plot involves 50 sisters who are betrothed against their will to 50 brothers, and who decide to escape to Sunny Italy. It was a big hit when it opened at the Humana Festival.
The Berkeley Repertory Theater can be contacted via its website at:
Oedipus the King
On Friday, March 31st, your reviewer made the five and a half hour journey to Santa Cruz to see the Aquila Theater Company's production of "Oedipus the King," by Sophocles. The University of California at Santa Cruz has added a splendid new performing arts complex since last I was there, and it proved both a blessing and a problem for the company, in that the production had been conceived in terms of a precenium presentation while the new theater has a n excellent thrust stage, requiring a more 'round' presentation.
Further obstacles had to be covercome in that the play was added to the repertoire of the travelling company in January. At that time (we learned) four of the six cast members had left the company, requiring the complex disciplines of the theater to be reworked at the same time that the new play was being enfolded. Add to that the fact that it is a new, untried translation (by Peter Meineck, the producer, and just published in March) and that the new actors were all trained in the naturalistic style of the Twentieth Century, while the play was to be presented in masks (requiring a more ritualistic reading) and you begin to see what an accomplishment it was for Aquila to merely get the play on the boards!
A less ambitious company might have faded before these challenges; but Aquila is the troop that last year got raves in New York with its presentation of "The Iliad: Book One," set in a bunker during the Normandy Invasion of World War Two. (I am bitterly dissapointed that they did not bring their Iliad to the West Coast. The second production they did bring was Shakespear's "King Lear," which is certainly going to rake in some cash to support their effort; but frankly, Shakepear on the West Coast is becomming a matter of artistic litter. There's a festival in just about every community with enough people to fill a theater. The Iliad would have been a special treat.)
Nonetheless, Aquila did not fade, and, at the risk of ruining the suspense of the review, let me say they did a damned good job.
The advantage of using masks, as our Cultural Ancestors understood, is that one is forced to concentrate on the words, and the ideas they convey. If the words are sufficiently well-crafted, then there will be an emotional response, and it was the intention of the Ancients that the emotional response should be intense; with the result of that purgation we call katharsis.
When done correctly, on the part both of the actors and the audience, this achievement of katharsis is ever so much better and more useful than psychoanalysis, and, simply put, not nearly so expensive or time-consuming. --Once a year beats once a week every time!
Meineck's translation, we were told in a brief talk before the performance, was intended to be 'contemporary' and 'colloquiel.' When I hear things like that I am immediately fearful of a text full of slang; but let me assure you that Meineck's translation, while feeling natural and being easily comprehended by a contemporary audience, does not fall prey to the trap of topicality of language. Nothing seemed strained, there was no great effort to reach people who might not otherwise be interested. Meineck made a translation, not an interpretation, and I think it is a complete success. It is excellently playable. Only at one point was there any jarring note, and that simply because the use of the word 'fucked,' while perfectly correct and delivered at an appropriately shocking moment, stuck out a little in the otherwise refined language with which the horror was summoned up.
Laying praise on a cast of six, playing a great many parts, and all in masks, is difficult. Every part was well acquited, and though there was some obvious difficulty (still) with the ritualized gesture (taken, for the most part, from Tai Chi Chuan: they had decided to costume the show in Chinese for some reason), the vocal acting, the vocal characterization; in short, those things which actors in these times are taught as a matter of course and which audiences are equipped to evaluate critically; were at a high level.
Still, it always seems to me that this play really belongs, not to Oedipus, but to Jocasta. She is the character who desperately, humanly, tries to hold together a world coming apart at the seams. She holds back from lofty ideals where she understands that mere mortals may not hope to pursue with success. She tries to solve problems by the only means that, in human life, are likely to work: by ignoring them, or by compromising between absolute right and absolute wrong. This extra-human dimension in Jocasta gives the performer just a little 'more' to work with than is given to to poor Oedipus, who is consumed by his huge and passionate frailties.
So, if I have to play favorites, I have to offer the laurel to Lisa Carter for her Jocasta, who riveted the attention even more than the other excellent performers.
The set, by Peter Meineck and Robert Richmond (the excellent director -- how did I, after so many years of directing, manage to forget the director? --That shows how truly well he did his job!) was both simple and rich at the same time. A circle and a hanging of crimson (velvet?) conveyed the theatron and the orchestra as well as any pile of stones could have.
The music, by Anthony Cochran, featured an especially beautiful overture, then punctuated the drama in much the same way that Carl Orff did in his opera of this play. Very effective, very well done. (They always sell T shirts at these affaires: I would much rather have had a tape or CD of Chochran's music, which it is likely I will never get to hear again, and which would serve me much better to remember the play than would a T shirt.)
In conclusion: I am quite favorably impressed by this theater company and was very much pleased with this production. I recommend that you check their website and patronize their effects by going to see them if they come close to your neck of the woods. I am dissapointed that they did not bring us their Iliad, and even more so that next season they are not doing one fo the Hellenic plays: but hopefully, our support of Sophocles and their work in general may pursuade them to remedy that flaw in the next season after. They have a good record of presenting Hellenic plays other than the standards, and I, for one, would rush right down to see their Iliad, their Odyssey, their Ajax, their Philoctetes; and, by Heracles, they also do the comedies! They have the Clouds, the Birds, and the Frogs in their repertoire! Where else are you going to see those shows?
You will find the previous natterings, with their web site addess, below:
The Aguila Theater Company, of London and New York, performs, among other things, Classical Theater. Their 1999 - 2000 season includes the Sophocles Oedipus Rex and the Iliad, and they have an extensive touring season. They will be in Santa Cruz, California, on March 31st and April 1st, and we have e-mailed them asking for details. They will also be in Southern California, and all over the place in the eastern half of the US.
Their e-mail address is:
Their website is at
The Bacchae, by Euripides
..,Finished its run under the realization of The Shotgun Players in Berkeley, California, on January 9, 2000, and we are happy to report that the production was fantastic!
The Ancient Hellenic plays are given much lip service by the university establishment in these times, but they are seldom given performances; and, when they are they are likely to be 'interpreted' or 'modernized' to make them 'relevent' for modern audiences, usually at the cost of nearly everything important or good about them.
(I still shudder to remember a production of "The Furies" in which Orestes became a Tennis Bum, Apollon a Newspaper Editor, and Athena a Corporate Lawyer. The rationale of that production was that the play was about the Evil Triumph of the Evil Patriarchy over the Good and Sublime Matriarchy: which, if thought about logically, would have meant that the Matriarchy stood for endless blood fued and blood guilt, while the Patriarchy stood for compassion and reconcilliation; which was hardly was the activist director had in mind.)
The Shotgun Players took Euripedes on his own terms, in the translation by Michael Cacoyannis, and once again proved that these plays did not come down to us through apologetics but through their innate excellence and stageworthiness. Director Patrick Dooley was well under the hand of the God in his visioning of the work, knowing precisely where some device was in order to make the play intelligible to his audience, and where the author's intention was clear enough for anyone to understand, despite the passage of time. He was masterful and precise in every particular , and the smoothness with which choreographer Andrea Weber's choral dance was integrated with Dooley's understanding of the flashing irrationality of the God's nature (and hence ours) was a matter of seamless delight.
If director Dooley was under the hand of the God, then actor Adam Bock was clearly enthused, in the exact technical sense of the term. His rendering of Dionysos was more than a performance. I don't know whether he was aware of the presence of the God co-inhabiting his body and spirit, but believe me, there were numbers of us in the audience who were. The God emerged from Bock in all His glory: sinuous as a snake, erotic, masculine, feminine, androgyne, and above all, divinely dangerous. One of my companions said she dare not lock eyes with him for fear of joining the maenads on stage and 'helping out.' If Bock can accomplish this magic with other roles (and perhaps without the presence of a God) then he is an actor to be treasured, and we should all look forward to his appearances with relish.
The cast was almost universally strong. Oh, there were a few performances where one became aware that there were actors on a stage, but in general the ability of the Hellenic plays to mesmerise by the simple technique of letting ideas and reactions flow through the personality of the performeer was given full reign, and it worked.
The second totally riveting performance of the evening was that of Trish Mulholland as Agave. One of the great technical problems of this play is that its true protagonist, Pentheus, is killed part way through. He is gone long before the real catastrophe, in a sense, mercifully dead ahead of our understanding of just how devastating is the vengence of the God. Mulholland's joyous entrance bearing the head of her dismembered son was electrifying, and gave total believability to the slow but steady realization, on the part of the maenad chorus, of the enormity of the tragedy. I don't think anyone escaped tears at the realization that what we do affects not only our decendents, but our antecedants as well.
Oh, the pity that Cadmus, who has done the best he can, is unable to escape the doom brought about by his heedless children. Oh, the awful and awesome reality that Gods and forces of nature will not relent merely because we grovel and apologize after the fact of our stupid iniquities!
We are hard put to describe the excellences of the Maenad's in this production. Take it that what they did was well done indeed. And we must make mention also of John Polak, who discharged his three roles as three kinds of messangers with distinctive characters and an intense passion.
And that leaves Andy Alabran, whose Pentheus was as well-realized as one could hope from this role; in its way as difficult and problematic as ever was King Lear. He moved well from a martinet suffused with pent up fear to a rular on the verge of a nervous breakdown, to a man who finally succombs to the things he fears: those dark passions outside the circle of the civilized light of the campfire, whether our campfire circle be a pile of stones or the citadels of our highest civilization. Enchanted and compelled by the power of the God, Alabran did a fine job of showing us how it is not enough to seek to know when we will not embrace.
As Jesus once said: "If you bring forth what is within you, it will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, it will destroy you."
And that is precisely what happens to Pentheus.
Great praises are due everyone connected with Shotgun Players for this splendid production. We have heard from one of our members that everything they do is in this class, so, if you live where it is practical to do so, we recommend that you patronize their theater. --We also hope, quite fervently, that they will choose to present us another Hellenic play done this well in the near future.
They are located at at 8th Street Studio, 2525 8th Street, Berkeley, California.
For information, call: 510-655-0813
Check Their Website:
The beautiful bordered background of this page was downloaded and is used with the permission and generous help of Mr. Randy D. Ralph, If you follow the next link, it will take you to his wonderful IconBazaar site, where you will find many graphic delights.