The final production of the Theatre Departments 2000-2001 season
is The Bacchae, a classical Greek play written by Euripides some
2,500 years ago.
Given the age and origins of the piece the beginning of Western
civilization comparing the themes of The Bacchae with the
concerns of modern Europe and North America is a way to measure the evolution
of the Western world.
The play is about a Dionysiac cult, and roughly deals with the themes
of civilized man versus natural man, the mutual suspicion these dual personalities
have for one another. Its about violence, intolerance and fundamentalism.
So, have we come a long way?
No! said Harry Standjofski, director of the coming production,
between rehearsals. Fortunately or unfortunately, we havent
gone past what theyre talking about.
But its the timeless character of the stories that is particularly
fascinating, says Standjofski, the sense that the writers of these dramas
were on to something when they strove to enlighten humans about their
While the drama of The Bacchae may still be relevant to a modern
audience, staging it is not quite so easy. It is a typical piece of classical
drama in its tendency to include many long monologues that are melodramatic
by todays standards. These have been significantly pared down.
Typically, for example, its not enough to convey sadness by uttering
a teary sentence and then crying. Rather, a band of women, known as the
chorus, that are in the play yet not part of the action, often
lament over several strophes, or paragraphs, to express the sadness felt
One of the reasons for all these words is that sets were very simple at
the time. Often, a play was presented in the open air, with just a few
changing-rooms for the actors.
To compensate for the lack of decoration which would help situate the
play for the audience, the actors spent a lot of time describing scenes.
Standjofski, a versatile actor-director who works in English and French,
stage and television, modern and classical, appreciates the subtlety that
was often used in staging Greek dramas. Violent scenes, for example, could
be heard offstage rather than seen on stage, leaving a lot to the imagination.
The challenge for this production has been to adapt the piece in a way
that would entertain modern audiences and still keep the play classical.
If you try to play it with a sort of high style (very traditional),
then it seems sort of ludicrous, Standjofski said. If you
try to play it realistically (i.e., without the melodrama), then it doesnt
work because the language wont allow it. Theres a purity of
acting style. It has to be played with a lot of emotion, but at the same
time, it has to be carefully restrained.
Im not particularly enamored with classical Greek plays as
plays. They are way too long, and there is a lot of verbiage. But we have
to remember that this was the beginning of Western dramaturgy. In one
way they cant be topped, in another way theyre very crude.
The Bacchae runs from March 30 to April 8 at the D.B. Clarke Theatre
on the SGW Campus. Tickets for students cost $5. See our Back Page for