The notion of a classical Greek theater festival may sound stuffy and archaic but don’t be fooled. An inspired tradition at the University of Utah, the centuries-old plays are performed outdoors —Red Butte Garden’s amphitheater, this year—during the morning hours, evoking the performance traditions of ancient Greece.
This year, director L.L. West and University of Utah drama students tackle The Bakkhai by Euripedes, an often misunderstood and disturbing work that erupts with haunting power, challenging our notions of the human condition and divine power. It is about young King Pentheus, who challenges the dangerous Dionysus, the spurned god of wine. Dionysus—along with his female followers, The Maenads—wreaks havoc on Thebes, eventually leading to a showdown with King Pentheus, ultimately cascading towards a horrific and bloody end.
Even though The Bakkhai was written thousands of years ago, it has a strange contemporary relevance; indeed, it partly inspired the latest season of True Blood on HBO, where a Maenad in the guise of MaryAnn has transformed the town of Bon Temps into a stupefying orgy, waiting for Dionysus’s return. The Bakkhai leaves you with more questions than answers. It delves into the violent and erotic heart of human nature, challenging the boundaries between civilization and the eruptive daemonic and divine forces of nature. It’s not just a play; it’s Greek tragedy.
The Bakkhai @ Red Butte Garden Amphitheater, 300 Wakara Way, 801-581- 6448, Sept. 19, 20, 26 and 27, 9 a.m., Additional performance at Weber State University Wildcat Theater, Sept. 23, 7:30 p.m., Theatre.Utah.edu