Shakespeare in the Park’s production of Euripides’ The Bacchae opened officially last night after two weeks of previews, and today the reviews are coming in. But one Olympian made his feelings known days ago.
The Greek tragedy about Bacchus, the romanticized god of wine, and his feral followers is a complex tale that welcomes sundry modern readings, but one simple fact stands out: Dionysus was a dick. Because the King of Thebes—who wants that job?—doesn’t pay him enough respect, the underappreciated god bewitches the king’s mother and, while she is in a trance, urges her to tear her son’s head off, which she does. Talk about your vain deities and your disproportionate responses.
Dionysus is also called the God of Thunder, and used his powers last week to express distaste with the current production of the play that depicts him so unkindly. Last Tuesday, the night I saw the show, I remarked to some friends while we headed toward the subway that Euripides really made the god come off like a jerk. Moments later, the sky broke, and winds as I’d never experienced before swirled down Central Park West, pelting us with crushed leaves that bit the skin like bits of broken glass. You could hardly open your eyes; crossing the avenue was like trying to walk through a turbulent ocean—pushing against tremendous resistance, you kept getting knocked back. Women screamed; men grabbed them so they wouldn’t blow away.
Fortunately, we made it quickly to the safety of the subway. But the next day, the Times’ front page featured a photograph of the storm’s decimation; the accompanying article noted that 100 trees had been felled, the most rampant natural destruction the park had sustained in decades. Central Park, in and around the Delacorte Theater, had been the savage storm’s epicenter.
So, memo to Shakespeare in the Park: next year, do a show that honors the gods. Clearly, they won’t abide your heretical ignominy.