An Admirable Attempt at an Ancient Greek Play

Sound and sight are senses that can both entertain and engage the audience. Speak the Rain Words, last term’s Theater 520 production, through lighting effects, costume design, music, and choreography drew the audience into the world of a modern adaptation of Euripedes’ The Bacchae. The brilliant visual spectacle that was hindered by the inaccessible script, co-written by Josh Williams ’03 and David Linfield ’03, who also directed the piece. The well-intentioned production took many bold moves, many of which were highly successful, and others which needed improvement. Speak the Rain Words brings Euripides’s The Bacchae to a modern setting, in which Pentheus, the king of Thebes in the original, is now the CEO of a powerful company. Dionysus has become a cult leader, and the Bacchae remain his sexually deviant female followers. Also featured in the adaptation are Agave, Pentheus’s mother who falls victim to the Bacchae, Cadmus, Agave’s brother and the former king, and Teiresias, Cadmus’s close friend. However, the relationships among the characters at times became confusing in Williams’s and Linfield’s script; much was left to long exposition in monologues, rather than in active dialogue. However, Linfield’s direction resolved most of this confusion by creating several visual connections between the characters. Warner Robinson ’04 made his stage debut in the lead role of Dionysus, the god of dance, wine, sex, and other guilty pleasures. Robinson commanded the stage with great confidence, but his over-exaggerated accent made it difficult to understand his long monologues. While impressing the audience with his physicality, Robinson was less successful in convincing the audience of his character’s energy and godly status. Although his lack of experience was evident in the performance, Robinson demonstrated admirable ease and could become a powerful force on the stage with a less demanding role. Opposite Robinson was Sam Beattie ’03 as Pentheus. Beattie gave perhaps his best performance in his two-year theater career at Andover, having previously appeared in last year’s Arsenic and Old Lace, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and The Real Inspector Hound. Beattie portrayed Pentheus’s nervous energy and fun-hating nature with great success, fully convincing the audience in his role as the peevish ruler of Thebes. Beattie was a shining example of a “theater-pro” in this relatively inexperienced cast. Rounding out the males in the cast were Taylor Washburn ’03 and Gardner Gould ’03, as Cadmus and Teiresias respectively. Washburn, another total newcomer to the theater scene, amazed the audience with his ease and projection on stage. While the script left little for Cadmus’s character development, Washburn swiftly moved the play along in his scenes with Gould. Gould also surprised the audience. While not a newcomer to theater, Gould, a member of the Under the Bed Improv Troupe, has been more commonly found in energetic and loud roles on stage, a great contrast to his reserved character in this production. Washburn and Gould showed good chemistry and visible energy between them. The highlight of the cast’s female members, Amy O’Gorman ’04 did a fine job as the Messenger/Guard, showing strong conviction in stance and line delivery. Her appearance as a female law enforcer demonstrated great contrast to the wild women of the Bacchae. Kaitlin Ainsworth’s ’03 thrilling performance as Agave highlighted her talent as an extraordinary dancer who can evoke strong emotion in her movement. Ainsworth’s brilliant ballet, featuring eight-year-old Louisa Dallett, the younger sibling of stage manager Meg Dallett ’04, brought the evening to a strong emotional peak. Speak the Rain Words’ success is in large part due to the commitment and talent of the seven performers who poured their musical, dance, and theatrical talents into their roles as the Bacchae. Appearing as the Bacchae were Brittney Bailey ’03, Kaitlin Alsofrom ’05, Kathryn Moore ’03, Ali Rosen ’03, Mari Ono ’03, Emily Ma ’04, and Taryn Zucker ’03. Dressed in beautiful costumes that represented cultures from around the world, each of these young women demonstrated strength, beauty, grace, and an enormous amount of ability. Most notable were Ono’s driving drum beats, Ma and Moore’s performances on the violin and the Navajo wood flute respectively, and Zucker’s strong vocals. The Bacchae brought the play to a level beyond any expectation, and their commitment to the production was evident in the performance. Linfield’s direction created one of the most striking and beautiful student-directed productions in these past few years at Andover. His use of color, light, and space gave the show constant tension, and he pushed the actors at a steady pace, never giving the show a slow moment. Linfield has an eye for the stage that few will ever have in their lives, and it is disappointing that he only has two terms left to “show us what he’s got.” Williams, who composed a full score for the piece, has truly outdone himself. The music, which incorporated instruments, beats, and styles from all over the world, gave a mysterious feel to the piece, and it provided great emotional ups and downs, further engaging the audience in the spectacle that was Speak the Rain Words. The problem with Speak the Rain Words did not lie in its performance value, for it truly was, as said above, a “spectacle.” The script did not engage the audience on its own. While Williams and Linfield used beautiful prose, it seemed like it was just that: words. The audience was left waiting for an exciting dance turn or a beautifully directed moment or the notes of the next song. Completing the creative team of the production were Meg Dallett ’04, a Drama Lab producer making her first attempt at stage managing, and Anthony Reyes ’05, Pooja Sripad ’04, and Woodney Haverstick ’03, who all created the choreography. To adapt such a difficult work at a high school level is an endeavor that few would ever think of attempting to do. Williams and Linfield proved through their abilities as a composer and director, respectively, that although one cannot expect ultimate perfection, pulling together such a display of theater is a success in and of itself.