The Followers: A Retelling of the Bacchae

I caught “The Followers: A Retelling of the Bacchae,” a musical produced by 7 Stages, last night. It was well produced and performed and I thought it was a lot of fun to watch. Written by Margaret Baldwin and directed by Michael Haverty, it was a truly enchanting spectacle, though I have to say that I didn’t find much more to it than that.

I mainly wanted to see it because of Ofir Nahari’s involvement in it. After seeing his “No(se)onenowhere” a little over a year ago, I’ll make an effort to see anything that he’s involved in ITP. He starred as Dionysus and also provided the choreography and I think that it was worth seeing it just for him.

The play was staged in 7 Stages black box theater, which was reconfigured to have seating on platforms on three walls. The floor was painted with a human figure splayed out across the whole room, with the legs going up the wall without seats up to the platform area next to the lighting booth. This was where Klimchak performed his percussion-oriented accompaniment. From the platform, a set of silks went down the wall to a large cauldron at the bottom. Aside from Nahari’s entrance, the silks weren’t used for acrobatic arts. The cauldron was, at times, covered and used as a platform.

I felt that it was a good use of space. Haverty’s blocking and Nahari’s choreography were effective and I didn’t feel like any seats on either of the three sides were neglected a good view of the action. The music was good, too. Klimchak, as usual, scored the incidental music mostly on percussion, though there was some breathy wind, as well. The songs performed by the cast were beautifully harmonized. All of the performers who sang had good voices. Most of the singing was fairly sweet, except for Nahari’s alto, which had a sort of rock-opera timbre.

The story was enjoyable: it was a tale of Dionysus’ revenge on the leaders of Thebes for slandering him and his mother. Wikipedia tells me that Euripides’ play, “The Bacchae,” implies that neglecting the Dionysian desires is bad for you and can lead to your destruction. I didn’t really get that from Baldwin’s script, though. This play reminded me of the movie “The Wicker Man,” which I saw in college with a neopagan friend of mine, where I didn’t really see a good guy or bad guy. Pentheus was a bit of a fascist, using a smart-speaker to enforce his will. Dionysus is kind of cool, but his cult doesn’t seem that nice when he finally gets his revenge. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this lack of a side for me to take is really more from Euripides’s work than Baldwin’s efforts, but it left me kind of not caring about the ending, which came across as kind of weak. As a revenge play, I didn’t feel the tragic pain of “Othello” nor the mad triumph of “Titus Andronicus.” While it may not be fair to compare Baldwin to Shakespeare, endings are important and I just didn’t get much out of this one. Still, it was a lot of fun to watch and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to enjoy a grand spectacle.

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