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The Bacchae Review: Euripides Tragedy Becomes Harlem Entertainment

What would Euripides say about the liberties being taken with his tragedies in New York? Medea, one of his last and most-produced plays, has been turned into the harrowing tale of an undocumented immigrant to Corona, Queens at the Public Theater. The Bacchae, one of his first tragedies, never performed during his lifetime, has become an entertaining pop, rock and hip-hop spectacular in an outdoor amphitheater in Harlem.

The Classic Theatre of Harlem has mounted The Bacchae free to the public at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park, in a version by Bryan Doerries. It would be hard to argue that it brings home the full force or horror that is the usual province of Ancient Greek tragedy. But what is a better tribute to the play’s principal character Dionysus, the god of ecstasy, wine…and theater, than a theatrical production with such intoxicating singing, dancing and design.

Jason C. Brown as Dionysus in Classic Theatre of Harlem’s The Bacchae
In Richard Rodgers Auditorium Photo by Richard Termine

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The program describes both the plot and the theme of the play succinctly: “Freedom, Ecstasy, Anarchy vs. Law, Order and Control…who wins? Rather, who survives?”

Dionysus arrives at the City of Thebes, bent on revenge. He is disguised as the charismatic Preacher D (portrayed by the charismatic performer Jason C. Brown, wearing shoulder length dreadlocks) and he turns all the local women ecstatic. This doesn’t sit well with Pentheus (R.J. Foster), the new King of Thebes, a law and order man, who tries to imprison Dionysus and his followers, who are known as the Bacchants. (Dionysus’ Roman name is Bacchus.)

“We will run them down from the hill and lock them up. We will build

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