Extensive cavorting by naked maidens in the throes of Dionysian ecstasy doesn't make an entirely convincing case for heralding Euripides' final play as an "erotic masterpiece." Nevertheless, director Bradford Mays' rather daring adaptation of "The Bacchae" at the Complex Theatre is rooted in a close reading of the ancient Greek dramatist's timeless insights into repression and its consequences.
Updated by way of Freud and Jung, Euripides sports a decidedly contemporary air in this tale of arrogant Theban King Pentheus (T.J. Ryan), who in banning all worship of Dionysus arouses the wrath of the pouty god (Richard Werner). The implicit conflict between the sterility of Pentheus' pure rationality and the fury of Dionysus' total erotic abandon speaks to a basic division in the psyche--but only in the words, since Ryan's Pentheus is just a willful, spoiled punk who never convincingly demonstrates the requisite intellectual pride.
In the expanded role of Pentheus' mother, Agave, Lynn Odell shoulders much of the responsibility for articulating the play's deeper themes. While transferring the objective moral voice from the chorus to Agave makes her own participation in the unfolding tragedy a more difficult stretch, Odell adroitly handles both functions in a harrowing and credible performance. Critt Davis is also powerful as the sympathetic former king who can't escape cruel destiny.
Mays' staging gets seduced by the confrontational possibilities of a chorus liberated from its objectivist stance, and too often comes across like an endorsement of Dionysian orgiastic excess--even though Euripides' text warns that the revelers were treated pretty shabbily by their patron god. Still, it's an enthusiastic spectacle embellished with the appropriately eerie mysticism of Peter Girard's original score--Enya meets Roger Corman.
* "The Bacchae," Complex Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Dark tonight. Regular schedule: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends July 27. $15. (213) 658-4000. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.
'City': Somewhere Outside Reality A near-catatonic figure known simply as The Guy brings out the worst in a group of young roommates in "City," Scott Organ's new play at the Hollywood Court Theatre.
Like a Gen-X descendant of Chance in "Being There," The Guy (Bob Clendenin) serves as a blank projector screen for everyone he meets. To the dim but sentimental tow-truck driver (Richard Augustine) who brings him home after nearly running him over, he's a long-lost best friend. To an elitist photographer (Matthew Allen Bretz) and amoral ad exec (Jim Anzide), he's a commodity whose "everyman" appeal could be a professional meal ticket. To the photographer's girlfriend (Gwyn Fawcett), he's a solution to her uncommitted relationship. To their aspiring actress roommate (Melanie van Betten), he's a way of exploiting the others to get what she wants.
Martha McFarland brings striking staging to these sometimes chillingly cynical manipulators. But these characters' choices are both predictable and unconvincing--would even the most selfish person risk a potential lawsuit to conceal someone obviously in need of medical attention? Ultimately, "City" is too unbelievable for realism and too slight for allegory, hovering uneasily somewhere in between.
* "City," Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. Dark tonight. Regular schedule: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 8 p.m. Ends July 20. $15. (213) 969-9239. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.