This evening, Barry McGovern, UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance’s Granada Artist-in-Residence, opens his interpretation of The Bacchae by Euripides.
McGovern, most notable for his work on Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s Waiting for Godot, came to Davis after he heard of the opportunity from his friend and coworker John Lacovelli. From the moment he arrived, Barry meticulously worked on his adaptation of Euripides’ classic.
The original play details the life and tragedy surrounding the Greek god Dionysus. McGovern’s fascination with the play began when he discovered a version penned by the Irish poet Derek Mahon.
“Most translations are written by classical scholars, and Mahon attempted to write a really racy, gutsy version of the play that I found thrilling,” McGovern said.
McGovern explained that the play is about letting your hair down. Attempting to express this theme with very little to no material on how the original was performed made the language alone seem insufficient.
To overcome this obstacle, he took the creative liberty of transporting the play from its Greek setting into a more contemporary vision. Instead of simply being a God, Dionysus is a rock star, and instead of his chorus of the village elders, a series of cheerleaders idolizes his every move.
Though most of the violence is done offstage, the play deals with a great deal of barbarity. McGovern explained that he wanted to imply most of the violence instead of showing it overtly.
“I wanted to mix the macabre and the pitilessness,” McGovern said. “There is a simple joy found in the defeat of the enemy that overrides our perception of brutality. Similar to the execution of Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden, when not confronted with the violence directly, we find ourselves supporting it.”
Though the horror is shown offstage, the play has no mercy and he wanted the audience to feel the power of that message.
Bobby August Jr., a second year MFA actor who plays Dionysus, talked of his stage experience.
“It was a challenge to play the character but Barry had a lot of ideas that really informed my decisions,” August said. “Every time I went on stage I felt like a rock star. To help, I watched some David Bowie and Joan Jett videos. I must have watched Joan Jett a hundred times. Those stars really owned the stage and I wanted Dionysus to have the same power.”
August went on to explain that The Bacchae is really going to be about the energy.
“It’s been a fun ride and I think we’re really ready to put it in front of an audience,” August said.
One of the principal antagonists of the play is the character Agave. August felt that the two share very little stage time, a decision that polarized the two characters.
Maria Candelaria, a second-year graduate student in theatre and the actress who plays Agave, shared her personal theatre history and how it contributes to her performance in The Bacchae.
“I have done very little ancient classical work so this whole experience was quite new to me,” Candelaria said. “I found at times the language was rigid but Barry is forever the professional actor and really understood what I needed.The difference of having a skilled actor as your director is [that] he’s willing to entertain what the process is like from your perspective.”
Candelaria felt the modern flare would allow the audience to understand the themes in a heightened sense. When transported to this rock star setting, some things that would otherwise be too foreign are brought into clarity.
“The good thing about working with such a classic is whenever you have an issue with the wording, there are numerous translations you can compare to inform your interpretation,” Candelaria said.
The Bacchae opens tonight at the Main Theatre in Wright Hall at 8 p.m. The show runs Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, Dec. 6 to Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. Tickets for general admission are $17 pre-sale and $19 at the door and tickets for students, children and seniors are $12 pre-sale and $14 at the door.
BEAUGART GERBER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.