“Karaoke Bacchae” at the Ice Factory Festival at the New Ohio Theatre (Closed August 8, 2015)

July 28, 2015 | Off-Broadway | Tags: ,
Presented by Meta-Phys Ed.
Written and Directed by Jesse Freedman/Meta-Phys Ed.
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Theatre without alcohol is a museum piece” once quipped Bertolt Brecht. If that’s the case, Meta-Phy Ed’s “Karaoke Bacchae” belongs as far away from MoMA as humanly possible. A drunk, delirious adaptation for Euripides’s ‘The Bacchae’ set in a Karaoke Bar, writer/director Jesse Freedman delivers an enjoyable, if decidedly incoherent dance theatre piece that’s heavy on fun and glamor.

For those unfamiliar with The Bacchae, Pentheus, a straight-laced ruler comes into conflict with Dionysus, god of wine and revelry, disguised in human form. When Pentheus orders Dionysus arrested, he sends the women city into a ravenous frenzy. In Karaoke Bacchae however, Pentheus Is a bar owner who’s showing the Stanley Cup during Karaoke night, and Dionysus arrives with a cadre of wasted sorority girls to punish him.

Most of the play revolves James Tigger! Ferguson prancing about as the hyper-glam Dionysus, who comes to earth in the form of Iggy Pop. This Dionysus seems something out of the mind of Charles Mee: funky, endearing, and without menace. Tim Craig is brings an arresting pride to the stage as Pentheus, but from the moment he comes onstage covering Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’ one never gets the feeling he’s any less fun-loving than his rival. Yes, he tries to escort the sorority girls out of the bar, but they’re so wasted it’s hard to feel like he’s ever in the wrong.

The play certainly captures the hazy bliss of a bar karaoke night, and succeeds in lifting the revelry into the occasional moment of prescience. A drag-queen tango between Pentheus and Dionysus make for a delightful show-stopper, but there’s a lot of muddle in “Karaoke Bacchae.”’ Frenzy is not the same as messy, and the play’s devolution can disunite when it wants to enter.

For example, at one point the four sorority girls launch into the much-tweeted ‘Deranged Sorority Girl’ email meme of 2013. While it’s funny at first, the performers are less than precise in delivery. They stumble over each other, the bit becomes laboriously lengthy, and instead being swept up in the revelry, it feels like the audience is just there to watch the performers have fun.

Those who have never seen or read ‘The Bacchae’ will most certainly be confused. The lines of Greek Chorus don’t mesh all that well when sung to the tune of Karaoke Classics. It’s only in Don Castro’s delirious summary of the play (as the rest of the cast lies in a drunken stupor) that the show achieves its impact. Castro gives an endearing, playful performance as a wasted English Professor who observes the unfolding chaos. Through his alcohol-fueled epiphanies; he relates The Bacchae to both The New Testament and the Lord of the Rings, the play finds its subtle sloshed comedy.

Meta-Phys Ed’s proclaimed Raison d’être is “Investigating the inseparable relationship between spirituality and art.” While one may not leave the theatre feeling any more spiritual per se, ‘Karaoke Bacchae’ is a jovial wild-eyed piece of revelry. If you’re a lover of Euripides, Karaoke, and (most importantly) glamor, I highly suggest you give it a go.