Bacchus Made Me Do It

Writer and Director Taurie Kinoshita melds The Bacchae by Euripides with the story of Andrea Yates (an anguished Julie Ann McMillan), the mother convicted of first degree murder of her five children in 2002, in an effort to bring order and sympathy to those grieved by mental illness. In it, Andrea's psyche is explored by drawing parallels to Agave, mother to King Pentheus who, in an insane rapture, assists the Theban Maenads in mutilating her own child. Unfortunately, very little transpires in this play to warrant a moral reprieve. Kadmos (Reb Beau Allen), the Voice of Reason, provides a blow-by-blow account of the events that led to the filicide and its aftermath, but his narration of what happened competes too strongly with the re-enactment of the story. Kinoshita's direction has Allen begin with his back to the audience, diffusing the possibility of intimacy from the start. The action that ensues makes a poor case for empathy, and most disastrously, entertainment.

There is a lot of shouting in this production, and both the actors and the technical elements appear to trump each other for attention and importance. Although the actors are loud, the score still manages to be overwhelming in some instances, drowning out the dialogue and distracting from the theatricality. The lighting design by Tamara Green is abrupt in some instances, piercing in others, and the actors sometimes miss their chance to be potent by speaking in the dark rather than within the lighting boundaries. The costume changes occur on stage to the play's detriment, disrupting the illusions and drawing attention instead to practicality.

Several characters weigh in on Andrea's psychosis, most prominently the two Bacchanalian "spirits" that urge her to save her children from her evil, "whore of Babylon" identity by ultimately drowning them. Andrea, presumably persuaded by two traveling evangelical Christians to live a submissive, holy life, is filled with strife that one can only conclude in this play is brought on by self-imposed, religious fervor. The Bacchanalian spirits (Nicolas Logue and Marissa Robello) hiss and groan and attempt to recall a passionate frenzy, but rather than inspire menace and surrender, they only inspire chuckles. These fragments of Andrea's imagination should be distinctly imaginary, but it is not visually evident that this is the case. One can only surmise that they are spirits based on the premise and director's note, but a simple costume choice could have clarified this fact. There is also no difference in their wardrobe from that of Kadmos, Andrea's supernatural sense of order personified.

In this play, Andrea has very little culpability for her actions, even though Kinoshita, by creating the dynamic between good and bad influences, does suggest that she had a choice. Even in the sensitivity shown to her mental illness, it is clear that Andrea made a decision. Instead, everyone from docile husband Russell(Jason Natale), who insists on not using birth control and allowing Andrea time to herself, to the therapist, who lacks patience and a caring nature, seem to bear the responsibility.

One crowning achievement for the show is a scene recreating Andrea's 911 call after the killings. The overlapping of the Bacchanalian spirits' voices with Andrea's own is very effective, demonstrating amazing concentration and commitment on the actors' parts.

As it stands, it wasn't necessary for Kinoshita to use The Bacchae as a backdrop at all for this play, as the portrayal of madness could have been done without the Greek tragedy. Save for the mild creativity, usage of The Bacchae's text could have easily been omitted, and the result would have been the same: the triumph, in this case, of evil spirits over good ones. With so many technical things gone awry, balance needs to be created in this production before balance can be achieved in Andrea's depiction.

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