KPBS AIRDATE: December 01, 2006
It’s the holiday season and anything goes. So, you can swing wildly between the ridiculous and the sublime. On the outrageous end of the continuum, there’s Diversionary Theatre’s production of “It’s a Fabulous Life.” And on the more serious side, 6th @ Penn is offering a searing rendition of Euripides’ ”The Bacchae.”
Euripides lived in the 5th century B.C., but his plays remain timeless. Alas, we still have the same addictions to extremism, intolerance and war. “The Bacchae” couldn’t be more chillingly pertinent; it’s all about religious freedom and religious fanaticism. The centerpiece is Dionysus, god of wine, ecstasy and inspiration, and his frenzied followers, the Bacchantes. Bacchus, as the Romans called him, is a petulant and punishing deity. When a young king refuses to believe that Dionysus is immortal, his punishment is humiliation and death; he’s dressed up like a woman and dismembered by the Bacchante, one of whom is his mother. Religion, revenge and violence taken to radical extremes; sounds like the daily news.
For this production, the tiny 6th@Penn Theatre has been transformed into an appealing but restrictive forest. A chorus of three garish harpies climb and hide in the trees. Translator Marianne McDonald has made the story both lucid and shocking. Director Douglas Lay has created some magical stage moments. But not all the actors are up to the task. The king is younger than one would expect; the elders aren’t all that old. But Bonnie Stone is wrenching in her horrified recognition that it was she who killed her son. The ageless play is a potent cautionary tale about the damage that can be wrought by ardor, revenge or religion unchecked.
Now, for a whole other take on intolerance, swish on over to Diversionary Theatre, for its twisted little twist on a holiday perennial. “It’s a Fabulous Life” concerns a gay man so beleaguered by his prissy, catty, diva, queenie actor/singer friends, he wishes he weren’t gay at all. And before he can say ‘Feather boa!,’ a guardian angel appears and grants his wish. Like the Jimmy Stewart character in the film, Joe learns how different his world would be if he weren’t in it. And he comes to cherish what he nearly gave away, including friendship and love. Under the direction and choreography of David Brannen, the cast is a riot, though varied in their singing and dancing abilities. The songs, like “Randolph the Rainbow Reindeer,” are not just campy, they’re clever. It’s over the top but somehow irresistible. It’s hard not to get a good laugh from this goofy, glitzy paean to old movies, gay icons and the unrelenting love of lavender.
So, this holiday season, go wild, or go Greek.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.