Dionysus in 17: A Fury of Sound, Physicality, and Interaction
I went to go see the local, theater production called Dionysus in 17 at the Bread &Water Theatre. It is a modern adaptation by of the original Dionysus in 69 performed in New York City, which itself was an adaptation of the ancient, Greek play, The Bacchae. It is one of the more unique plays I have seen in quite awhile.
Bombastic Entrance for a Bombastic God
The play starts out with the lead actor, Andreas Woerner, proudly introducing himself as a man from Germany who came to Rochester, NY, which is the location of the performance: True facts there. Through loud and bombastic exposition with fellow cast mates and the audience, he explains how an encounter with a blind woman revealed to him that he had been reborn as the Greek god, Dionysus.
If you are not familiar with your Greek mythology, Dionysus was the god of wine and sex (though the Greeks would refer to it as ‘fertility’). Historically, he is also associated with crowd madness and a narcissism that that was coupled with vindictiveness if he felt threatened and disrespected as not being a god. This was a common disposition among the Greek pantheon. Dionysus in 17 follows this premise about a man who refuses to recognize the reborn ‘Dionysus’ as a god and tries to stop his orgies. As with most Greek tales, it ends tragically.
I originally found the location of the play unusual as it was a dark room with space made to move but practically no props, equipment, or dress. It definitely did not appear like a major production. However, this also made it more affordable to see and had an authentic, performance-based feel to it, rather than something corporate and soulless.
The location also served the performance well, as the lack of external devices and potential distractions forces the crowd to focus on the performers as the centerpiece. Sometimes in large scale productions, the actors can often become part of the background rather than the storytellers, so this was a refreshing change. Few props and costume also forces the actors to perform well as they will not have any crutches to lean on if their performance goes awry: nothing to distract the audience from a screw up if one happened. For the record though, none did.
Another key characteristic of the act was the level of interaction with the spectators in the early part of the performance. Initially, I was not aware that I was going to be spoken directly to and invited to take part in play itself. The actors both challenged me as a spectator as I can be a bit reserved around those I don’t know. It forced a reassessment of how I started viewing the performance and provoked more intimate interest. I later found out that this was an important piece of the Dionysus play overall, but it is a difficult feat to pull.
However the actors were both courteous and inviting, while still staying in character and not bullying the audience to participate if they chose not to. If you are an introverted spectator, this might be initially intimidating for you, but these guys were pretty good at maintaining that balance.
The latter half focuses on the progression of the story itself and relies heavily on the vocal and physical abilities of the actors to not only maintain total commitment to the scene, but to sell each moment for what it was without the use of extensions. My interest was fed by their passion and dedication in body and mind to the scenes they performed. At this they excelled, having one portion of the act being loud and raucous and then transition into dead silence moments later, with only one actor speaking with emotional heaviness. You might even say the silence itself was became a character and I did not find the transitions jarring at all.
The only criticism I really had was their inclusion of Rochester in the beginning of the play. The lead actor, Andreas Woerner, using his own background was fine and worked well to lighten the mood and kick off the performance. However, only using Rochester itself in the beginning didn’t serve a real point by the middle and latter half of the play. Still, at the same time it does not detract from the performances either. It’s just kind of there.
The second issue I had was the political rant at the end. Beyond continuing the chaotic and self-centered nature of reborn Dionysus, it seemed somewhat out of place and sudden with no connection to what I had seen up till then: unless perhaps it was commenting on the narcissism of world leaders.
So my conclusion is that Dionysus in 17 was one of the most performance-driven and challenging theater productions I have been to. The cast is as passionate in their vocal acting as they are in their physical performance without making it seem weird. I would recommend going to see it for yourself if you live in Rochester, NY. Just be prepared to be a part of the performance for a bit.
Showtimes are July 21, 22, 28 29th and August 4th and 5th at 7:30pm. And July 30th and August 6th at 2pm.
www.breadandwatertheatre.org, 172 West Main st.