Photo by Craig Schwartz

The Bacchae

September 2018
The Getty Villa

Packed with striking scenes, frenzied emotion and choral songs of great power and beauty, The Bacchae is considered to be one of Euripides’s greatest surviving works. Dionysus, the god of wine, ritual madness, fertility and theater, returns in disguise to his birthplace in Greece.  As revenge for a personal slight, Dionysus plans to spread his cult among the people of Thebes. His adversary King Pentheus, fearing the spreading disorder of the cult, imprisons Dionysus in order to suppress his influence. This misguided attempt to thwart the will of a god leads to catastrophe for Pentheus and his entire family. 

The bacchants referred to Dionysus as “the god of letting go,” reminding us that if we do not respect the wildness that is part and parcel of being human, we may fall prey to the tyranny of excessive order or the frenzy of collective passion. Today the play resonates with our current social and political situation.  We must learn to curb our hubris and our fear of the irrational, the unknown and the foreign.  

Director’s Note:
More than any other plan in Western civilization, Euripide’s The Bacchae is probably the one that most directly addresses the art of theater. Dionysus, one of the central characters in the plays, is not only the god of divine ecstasy, fertility, wine, and harvest, but also presides over the theater. At one point a bewitched Pentheus exclaims, “I seem to see two suns, the city of Thebes doubled.” Indeed, we attend the theater knowing that we are “seeing double.” We are aware, for example, that we are looking at an actor or at a precisely lit staging and scenery, but at the same time we allow ourselves to enter into another world that is merely suggested by what is actually present. 

In our production, the role of Dionysus, the God of wine and theater, is personified, rather than by a man, by SITI Company Co-Artistic Director Ellen Lauren. The chorus of Bacchant women are embodied by bothmen and women.  Agave is played by the Japanese actress and long-time SITI Company member Akiko Aizawa, in Japanese.  These theatrical choices are based upon SITI Company’s ongoing investment in international exchange including a long-time relationship with the Suzuki Company of Toga in Japan, as well as the creation of theater that unites historical perspectives with present-moment sensibilities. The Getty Villa is a world destination that honors the antiquities and the cultures that influence us today.  Both SITI and Getty embrace the positive aspects of globalization and bridging cultures. 

Towards the end of The Bacchae, Agave enters carrying what she believes to be a mountain lion’s head but is, in fact, the severed head of her son Pentheus. She speaks in Japanese. For Akiko Aizawa, using her first language allows her to feel and express Agave’s core emotions of grief and understanding as deeply as possible. In our belief that the theater, at its best, transcends language, it is our hope that the eloquence of her emotional intensity will communicate with clarity to our audiences.  Her body, her tone of voice and her actions communicate the sad story that ends the play. Agave asks her father Cadmus where Pentheus is, not realizing that she is carrying his head in her hand.  - Anne Bogart

Translator’s Note:
My translation of The Bacchae is exceptional in that it is intended for live performance. This emphasis means both that the translation is comprehensible on a first hearing, and that is preserves, formally, the incantatory quality of the poetry in the original. I translated the dialogue and narrative sections into the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare and set the choral sections apart with different rhythms and with rhyme­–to make clear that these sections are song and not conversational speech. The resulting translations is a musical experience that modulates, as the original does, between spoken and sung lines of verse. Euripides was, famously, a poetic virtuoso, and have done all I can to recreate the sonic richness of his original version in English. - Aaron Poochigian

By Euripides

Translation by Aaron Poochigian

Directed by Anne Bogart

Created and Performed by SITI Company


Dionysus: Ellen Lauren

Tiresias:  Barney O’Hanlon

Cadmus: Stephen Duff Webber

Pentheus: Eric Berryman

Soldier:  J. Ed Ariaza

First Messenger: Leon Ingulsrud

Second Messenger:  Gian-Murray Gianino

Agave: Akiko Aizawa

Chorus: Roshni Shukla & Samuel Stricklen

Brian H Scott, Set and Lighting Designer

Darron L West, Sound Designer

Erik Sanko, Composer

Lena Sands, Costume Designer

Ellen M. Lavaia, Production Stage Manager     

Alyssa Escalante, Assistant Stage Manager

Nana Dakin, Assistant Director

Joey Guthman, Assistant Set and Lighting Designer 

Helene Foley, Dramaturg

Norman Frisch, Dramaturg

Kelly Maurer, Choral Consultant 

Michelle Preston, Executive Director

This adaptation was commissioned by The J. Paul Getty Museum and first performed at the Getty Villa on September 5, 2018.