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Sasha Cohen and Faustina Delany, The Three Minute Bacchae and other Extreme Acts Sasha Cohen and Faustina Delany, The Three Minute Bacchae and other Extreme Acts
photo Heidrun Löhr
Each year, PACT Youth Theatre’s Impact Ensemble program provides eight months of regular weekly training and skills development sessions for young theatre makers. In the last three months the focus is on the development of a new work. Under the direction of Regina Heilmann, the 14 members of the 2008 ensemble created The Three Minute Bacchae and Other Extreme Acts. Drawing on motifs from Euripides’ tragedy The Bacchae, the performance is a poignant exploration of the nature of extreme acts and their impact on the everyday.

While we’re in the foyer, a young woman armed with a stopwatch delivers a three-minute synopsis of Euripides’ gruesome revenge story revolving around Dionysus, God of wine and inspirer of ritual madness and ecstasy. He cruelly punishes his cousin, King Pentheus, and his mother for not worshipping him. It’s an impressive feat of telling given the sprawling narrative and interminable lineup of characters. Once inside the theatre, the spirit of Dionysus is invoked by serving the audience wine. The performers engage in a series of everyday rituals of varying pace and duration—getting dressed, preparing a meal, chatting on the phone, brushing teeth, smoking a cigarette. These diligently executed actions seem controlled and considered but there is a sense of underlying threat, barely contained. There is a glimpse of it early on when a male performer drinking a longneck VB is suddenly grabbed and hosed down with water.

Firmly anchored in the here and now, a lot of the actions in the first half of the piece revolve around a ‘to do’ list written up on the wall, like a menu, with each task struck off once completed. Most of them have as their target a young man lying naked on a large wooden table, as if in a morgue. Yet references to The Bacchae are soon incorporated and proceedings take on a more pointedly theatrical tone. Short passages from the play are read and the line “I had a dream last night, mother; I dreamt I was decapitated” is transmuted into a song delivered by four chorus girls. It also becomes clear that the man on the table is Pentheus, victim of Dionysus’ revenge. Eventually the performers transform into a heaving mass of rolling bodies, gradually closing in on Pentheus, trapping him under the table. Fast, rhythmic hand drumming on the table is a prelude to the group turning into a violent mob. Pentheus is flung from side to side, and eventually lifted up and dropped to the floor. After a powerful, gospel-like chorale consisting principally of the line, “Oh savage truth, my son is dead”, Pentheus rises and, with a knowing look at the audience, lies back on the table as before.

Supported by a cleverly arranged soundtrack by James Brown and Emma Ramsay and sumptuous lighting by Frank Mainoo, The Three Minute Bacchae and Other Extreme Acts is a skilfully constructed, thought-provoking piece of contemporary performance. Heilmann’s direction is assured and sensitive, the ensemble perform with commitment and maturity.


The Three Minute Bacchae an other Extreme Acts, director Regina Heilmann, performers imPACT Ensemble 2008, sound design James Brown, Emma Ramsay, lighting design Frank Mainoo, dramaturgy Bryoni Trezise, scenic artist Robyn Higgins; PACT Theatre, Nov 19-Dec 7

RealTime issue #89 Feb-March 2009 pg. 38

© Martin del Amo; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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