Powerful Women Emerge From “The Hidden Territories of the Bacchae”
Double Edge Theatre is like no theater you have ever attended before. It is situated on a farm in Ashfield, MA. It uses the farm and its environs for its extraordinarily creative melding of nature and performance. It uses text, movement, costumes, and light to tell classic stories that align with its vision to “prioritize imagination in times of creative, emotional, spiritual, and political uncertainty.” I know this vision because it’s painted on the side of a barn. How cheering it was to join a hearty group of 40-50 theater adventurers in the courtyard this week, especially with the news of a third indictment.
Their current production, The Hidden Territories of the Bacchae, was conceived, conducted, and designed by Artistic Director Stacey Klein. Klein adjusts the focus of Euripides’ version (which is centered on Pentheus, the patriarchal leader of Thebes) to the women who followed Dionysus (a fantastically appealing Milena Dabova), the Greek God of ecstasy, wine, and theatre, sometimes known as Bacchus. The program states, “In our current version, we have brought a community of women out of their Hidden Territories to celebrate the power of their voices, songs, and ultimately, their passionate expression for freedom and a just world.” I cannot recommend this experience highly enough; there will be images that we will remember all our life, but unfortunately, it only runs through August 7th, and it’s sold out.
The play opens with the audience following two handlers (one of them being Klein) across the road to a low wall where a funeral pyre is set up for Pentheus (Victor Figueroa), who is being sacrificed. We see the end of the play first, letting us know right off the rip how this is going to end up. The farm has a dozen settings for each individual scene made up of a garden, a stream, a pond, and a barn where the Rites really take hold, and you follow quickly within a short distance moving from one scene to the next. As you walk, actors are in the trees or illuminated on the top of ten-foot poles singing or exhorting you to move on to the next scene from Semele’s (luminous Cariel Klein) temple to Agave (Pentheus’s bitter mother, played powerfully by Jennifer Johnson). Carlos Uriono, DE’s co-Artistic Director, makes a strong, engaging impression with his high-spirited Tiresius. You can also catch the Gods on the large hill on stilts, or the Bacchae, who are singing throughout the hour and fifteen-minute production with music composed and chorus led by Amanda Miller. The voices are strong and hypnotic; there are themes that come back, and there is nothing slapdash or cobbled together.
It is hard to pick out a favorite scene, but the scene in the barn acts as the climax of the play as the Bacchae trade vocal lines and Dionysus and Semele climb and play among the branches of two twisted upside-down trees that begin to rotate. There are other trees in the room which are ripped out by their roots and suspended around the audience, and the pace, volume, and lights quicken into what could be described as the most Bacchanalian scene in the evening. It’s powerful stuff.
The lighting (designed by Mary Louise Geiger) throughout is perfectly focused on finding figures in trees and illuminating scenes with a single instrument, all while complementing the natural dimming of the day. Costumes (designed by Tadea Klein) are first-rate – you may find yourself gasping when these beautiful outfits descend into the stream or pond. There are a dozen other credits in the program, all unique to this show, such as masks, rigging, and stonework which all came together for this singular experience.
There is no match for immersive, site-specific shows we’ve ever seen. Every moment of this visionary Bacchae was powerfully and indelibly created and performed by this superb company.
The Hidden Territories of the Bacchae runs through August 7th and is sold out. To join the waiting list, email [email protected] or call (413) 628-0277. Plan for next year!