By Steve Rathje
Until this Saturday, the Freeks Theater is performing “Bacchae,” an immersive and wildly creative adaptation of Euripides’ classic tragedy. This show starts on the steps of the Cantor Arts Center and leads you through different locations around the campus as the story unfolds. But where you go is partially your choice; the play is like a “choose-your-own-adventure” game that allows you to follow any characters or storylines you choose and weave together your own narrative.
I was surprised that, while I seemed to be following the characters somewhat randomly, I was able to fit together a surprisingly coherent narrative that pretty clearly — if circumlocuitously — told the tragedy of Bacchae. My story started at the beautiful front entrance of the Cantor, where Dionysus (Tucker Bryant ‘16) made a grand entrance along with a lively chorus of people called Maenads. Tucker had an electric stage presence as Dionysus, conveying the godly proportions of his character while also demonstrating a lighthearted wit. I chose to follow several of his scenes, which included heated-yet-hilarious interactions with King Pentheus (Calvin Studebaker ‘16), an uptight foil to Dionysus’s carefree spirit, and songs with the Maenads accompanied by floutist Darien French-Owen ’15 and drummer Alex Muscat ’16.
Some of my favorite parts of the production stemmed from my interactions with minor characters. Much of this show is focused on audience interaction, which on my particular path included many moments with Chief of Police Yash Saraf ‘17, Messenger Jeffrey Abidor ‘16 and others. These actors would ask me about what I saw, tell me to run with them or to hide and would continuously try to make me a part of the story. The fluidity of these moments was impressive; the team clearly worked with the actors on improvisation, and even brought on a Live Action Role Play consultant, Deanna Abrams ‘17, to stress the importance of these moments. In parts that were not improvised, Jake Friedler’s ’15 adapted text effectively makes the Greek myth accessible and interesting (at least in times that it can be heard — the commotion in the expansive outdoor locations sometimes made the show difficult to hear).
I caught the tail end of the narrative following the Bacchae chorus as they were performing a dance on a field near the Clark Center. With loud speakers, exuberant choreography by Carly Lave ’15, multicolored lights and an infectious sense of energy, I wish that I had seen more of the Bacchae plotline earlier in the show. Since this show offers so many narratives, I often felt like I was missing out on something exciting, since there was something interesting happening in each narrative. “Bacchae” would be a great show to see more than once, seeing the story from completely different perspectives each time.
The use of locations around Stanford had a wonderfully cinematic quality — I often forgot that I was still at Stanford, finding myself immersed in how the actors, scenery, lighting and use of projection transformed the locations. I would watch a fight beneath a metal grid in the ground, see Pentheus transform into a woman in a hidden-away space beneath stairs, watch the Maenads dance on the balcony or participate in a wild rave with the cast on a large circular platform in Clark. Especially considering the lack of promising traditional theater spaces on campus, director Laura Petree’s ’15 use of space imaginatively and effectively took advantage of the beautiful outdoor spaces we have on campus.
Petree does an excellent job of pulling together a massive show that incorporates many different moving parts. The show is imaginative, immersive and fun; I would recommend bringing an open mind to the show and letting yourself wander wherever it seems to take you (and then, perhaps, going again, to wander along a completely different narrative).
For more information about “Bacchae,” visit thefreekstheater.wix.com/
Contact Steve Rathje at srathje ‘at’ stanford.edu.