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January 28, 1969 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1969-01-28

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Pc~~ TwoTHE MICHIGAN DAIL'Y Tuesday, January 28, 1969







'The contemporary American
theatre stood naked in the Un-
ion ballroom on Sunday night.
It was amazing.
"Dionysus in 69," a play with
a double meaning in its -title, is
also a play with% a double mean_-
irig iii its r-itual. The ritual be-
gins as Richard Schechner's ver-
sion of "The Bacchae" by Euri-
pides. It e n d s as an actors,'
statement of the paradoxical
strength-and-weakness of their
lIff - the contemporary the-
- Whether this double meaning
was intended or not in the early
versions of Dionysus, it has cer-
tainly grown into the play dur-
inig the course of revisions.
There are clear dramatig con-
nections between the two mean-
ings of the ritual. The most ob-
vious is the alternation between
Greek -and modern in the play.
Sometimes t h e actors are
Greeks, and the man wearing
glasses is Dionysus and the man
with the white handkerchief
around his eyes is Teresias.
But sometimes the actors are
actors, and V h e man wearing
glasses is William Finley from
Christopher Street and the man
with the white handkerchief is
/his friend. ,
This alternation was hardly
accidental or gimmicky. Neither
was It. a; Brechtian device to r'e-
mind the audience that theatre
is pretense.. Rather, it was to
fercibly bring home to the au-
dience 'that this is a play
ABOUT the theatre itself, its re-
lationsh-ip to the power struc-
ture, and its response to the
power structure.
When Pentheus entered the
Union' ballrooi 'and begin kick-
ig ther naked actor, ,rthe au
shock. Pentheus, after all, look-
ed like an 'Ann Arbor hood -
and' he seemed to 'have come
from t h e audience itself. He
could have been an escapee
from the text' book on deviant
psychology or the local police
officer as a Young Man. And,
off course, the parallel was de-
liberate. What .Pentheus .did
during the play, the police did
Another connection between
the double meanings of the play
is the nakedness itself. The ac-
tors take off their clothes to do
homage to their god-Dionysus.
As 'Greeks, they honor t h e
Greek god of wine and revelry
-by destroying Pentheus, the
non-believer. As actors, they
honor the god of the theatre by
saying, things that few actors
hive said. before directly and
hcjnestly. to an audience. As
Gr'eeks, their nakedness is phys-
ical, but as actors, their naked-
ness is very much spiritual. The

managed to convey the serious- the en
ness of the ritual. But- by in- the spe
volving the audience in so close women
and so emotional-physical a to spea
way, the actors also kept the au- nation.
dience from listening to t h e adequa
words in any thoughtful way. It ing of
became important to participate, Inste
to respond, as everyone was re- ple sor
sponding, and not to thinit don B:
about the implications. Or, for We ret
that matter, to think very care- It is
fully about anything. perienc
There is nothing wrong w'~ith audienc
this. It is exactly what a ritual their
is - but for the last 2500 years watchii
it has not been what a play is. NON E
mniycate inritual. In "Diony- the Del
sus," the simple idea was that dates 'n
worship of the God of wine (and periene
through wine to physical bodies) ed tha
was good, Pentheus; who didn't suitabh
think so, was bad, would
In any participatory theatre, respons
things have to be simple. The in the
audience knows, what is g 00o d ed to
and what is bad, and therefore, end, S
HOW to participate. preveni
The second g r e a t audience If it
participation in the Uni'bn Ball- - abo
room was the attack on Penthe- about
us. People yelled names at him particli
("Little Hitler," "Sheriff Har- came I
vey") while he tried to make fine, cq
everyone stop speaking, and person
then stop clapping. He ran like The
a madman through the audi- porary
ence. The more he tried to stifle in uni
the noise, the more noise the ments,
audience made, of strei
It was classic children's the- the ba
atre. Once more we were all in Sens
Buffalo Bob's peanut gallery sism bi
letting Howdy Doody -know is pre
where Mr. Bluster was, doing that "]
out best to help the forces of tail. TI
goodness and righteousness. In '~
this case, of course, we were-
older and wiser - and so the
issue ,was sex and sensitivity,
nOt putting mud i the jelly jar.
are similar figures - both bla- "OnE
tantly representing parents, and of at
both blatantly the object of all del ic
our juvenile rage.
.But thien things began to get
complicated. In Euripides, they
are developed and explained. In - '
"Dionysus"' they become garbled
and confused. After all, every-
one is covered with blood at the
end of the play except for Dion-
ysus himself. And then every-
one starts washing the blood off
of everyone else, apparently un- G
happy at the butchery.G
No attempt is made to relate
this to the central message of
the first part of the play.
Schechner deliberately obscures -

d of the play by giving
aking parts of Euripides'
to his female actresses
k in chorus and in alter-
His ritual is simply in-
te to deal with the end-
the play.
ad, he has us sing a sim-
~g to the tune of "Lon-
ridge is Falling Down."
treat into simplicity.
not at all clear what ex-
e the pretty girls in the
ce had, who had to check
cameras at the door,
ng the ritual w i th its
ROTIC pubic hair.
ta Phi Epsilonsarandetheir
ade any sense of the ex-
e, or whether they decid-
.t love-making was the
e response, That surely
have been the intended
;e had the play stopped
middle. But if they want-
mnake sense of it, at the
checbner did his best to
made them introspective
ut their own hang-ups,
their own willingness to
pate, then the play be-
their own play - quite
Luite serious, and quite
paradox of the contenm-
theatre, in New York and
versity theatre depart-
is that the basic source
nigth and energy becomes
sic source of weakness.
itivity becomes narcis-
ecomes homosexuality. It
cisely this progression
Dionysus" follows in de-
he purN-n the titlo is not

a dirty joke at all. It is, literaly.
Dionysus IN 69, and the position
is hardly an accident.
The Performance Grou9 be-
gins in sensitivity. They do seit-
sitive exercises, accept sex with-
out dirty leers or pornogranhic
attitudes, and have a wonder-
ful time. Then a Pentheus cf-
ficer appears, w h o persecutes
them. In the contrast, they dis-
cover that they are sensitive,
while others are not. They be-
come narcissistic (in the play,
demonstrated by Dionysus him-
self, the leader).
A short moment later, they
become homosexual. They m e
quire others to make love TO
THEM. Dionysus announces to
Pentheus that he can be accept-
ed into the Performance Group
if he will "love my cock." Pen-
theus refuses to take the a*ctive
role. He accepts the passive rol?,
but that isn't good enough for
Dionysus, who has him killed.
It's not Euripidles.
The result is a signiificant sort
of self-critical blood-bath -in
which everyone takes part and
after which everyone is sorry.
The actors have been unable to
stop themselves in sensitivity -
and have fallen through narcis-
sism, homosexuality, and de-
struction (emotional. if not nec-
essarily physical). The God
Dionysus, the god of the theatre,
appears to them and tells them
that h~ requires it.
"Dionysus 69"'has been accus-
ed of being self-indulgent. It is,
of course, but it is honestly self-
indulgent. It is therefore, pro-
found, and ultimately very sad.


All right, musicals are musicals and you don't get high-minded
and go into the theatre expecting Shakespeare. However, I cannot
see one really good reason for going to sce Fiddler on the Roof at all,
except possibly that some of Tevye's-played last night by J. Jarratt
straight from Broadway-wisecracks to God are funny. God by the
way was up in the Hill auditorium roof for the whole evening without
moving once. The plot is based on the stories of Sholon Aleichema-
actually a Solomon Rabinowitz who died in the Bronx just over fifty
years ago-and it has potential: it offers us all the romping of Jewish
flokiorico in the Russia of 1905 plus an impending pogrom for a bit
of contrast. But this musical turns this and everything else it touches
into sloppy sentimentality.
As for the performance itself? The singing was tolerable, except
when whoeveritwas got between two microphones, and the dancing
was lively, but lacked any originality, which goes for the direction
as a whole. The best bits were the wedding romps and the rabbi looking
up Leviticus on modern dancing and suchlike; but these followed
comic stereotyves. and eventually the quotations from "the good
book" got terribly tedious. And the sad bits? They weren't sad at all
but lugubrious rubish.


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connection between these two
types of nakedness is a familiar
one in non-dramatic literature.
At the Union on Sunday night,
the first type of nakedhiess was
too much, fo the police to hian-
niakedness was too much for the
audience to handle.
As t h e ritual of Euripides,
"Dionysus in 69", is oversimpli-
fied, confused, and drawn out.
As the ritual of the Perform-
ance Group, "Dionysus 09'' is
vital, honest, and nearly Tier-.
Euripides' "The Bacchae" is
not a simple play with one or
two simple ideas. Shechners
adaptation is. By emphasizing
the ritualistic at the expense of
the verbal, he destroys- every-
thing at all remotely complex.
But this is to criticize Shech-
ner for something he is not try-
ing to' do. His goal is participa-
tory theatre - which he
7pm., Union Assembly Hail
The Eastbound Mound
9 p.m., Union Ballroom

--Daily-Peter Dreyfuss
achieves magnificently. If the
price he must pay is oversim-
plification, and stress on the
techniques of children's theatre,
he seems more than willing to
To heaudience took an active
part in "Dionysus" and became
al part of the play. It was drawn
into the ritual when it entered
the cool ballroom," in small
groups, after sweltering mn the
hallways outside. It was can~-
fronted with the Performance
Group d o i n g acting exercises
a n d singing Gregorian-style
chants at the same time. It last-
ed ford an hour. During this
time,athe actors mnovedu amon
dents, and gently carrying them
The whole thing was relaxed.
However scared some of the girls
looked on the backs of the ac-
tors, they all had self-satisfied
grins on their faces when theic
rides were over. When actors
confronted actively hostile, scar-
ed students, they tried for a
while, and then gave up. No one
appeared to be kidnapped.
By making t h e audience a
part of the performance from
the very beginnin~g, the actors

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Bares opts for New T heatre

-"New 'Theatre" makes Olive Barnes feel "up
tight"; so does giving lectures. But the estimable
drama critic of The New York Times managed
to please his audience Sunday afternoon by
solidly endorsing -youth, truth and nudity, and
by simply being -agreeable-.
As the first speaker in the University Activities
Center's Creative Arts Festival, Barnes made a
case for experimnentation in the American thea-
tre "whose vitality has been debilitated" by the
economics of the Broadway businessman.
Broadway has -become a "showcase" where no
one 'has the. right to fail. And it is the basic right
of every~ artist to. fail, Barnes said. He be-
lieves many artists did fail in producing natural-
istio theatre which subsequently has become
oitmnoded. "The 'race of world theatre overtook
the niaturalistic American theatre that was wait-
imng for Lef tie, while the rest of the world was
waiting. for- Godot," Barnes explained.
.But regional theatre and off-Off-Broadway
have succeeded in creating a resurgence of the
American drama,- by providing opportunities for
the young writer and by being as professional and
every bit as interesting as the newest mtsical
comnedy. .
"However, the price we must pay for freedomn
is some abuse of it," the critic said. "But I think
its tbetf'er that .some people abuse it than have
it taken away from them."
And if free people wish to take off their clothes,
Baines .said, it is -"a legitimate protest, -some-
thing like Shaw saying -'bloody'," to rouse an
audience out of its stupor. On naked bodies, he
added, 'flll, -they're -'not so unattractive!"
"It is a newv function of the theatre," Barnes
excplains; ''to reflect the political activities of the
Theatre""self-indulgent." -

However, Pat -McDermott, a member of the
nation. The whole theati'e has changed" and has
become a "political meeting."
He cited the case of Joseph Heller's "We
Bombed in Newv Haven," "an interesting, flaw-
ed play" which bombed in New York, baut which
stimullated the audience. "You couldn't stop V h e
audience from talking," when the players began
discussing Vietnam," Barnes explaihs.
The increase of audience involvement in New
Theatre has accompanied the rise of actors
"trained in a physical way, a completely differ-
ent method," Barnes said. These actors are pre-
pared for "'the invasion of moral privacy" which
Julian Beck's Living Theatre has launqhed.
However, it is just this invasion which several
members of- Barnes' audience found irritating:
"Do you have to go to the theatre to be your-
self?" one girl asked. And Barnes obliged her
criticism explaining he often feels disturbed by
the "embarrassing" elements of "new" produc-
tions. He confirmed the observation of several
members of the audience who found the Living
Performance Group arrested Sunday night after
'Dionysus in 69". rose to the defense of Julian
Beck. He said the draft was away from "textual
theatre" toward more spontaneous art. McDer-
mott said it was up to the audience to determine
"whether a performer speaks for just himtself or
for' you."
"If he only speaks for himself, the play' is self-
inrdulgent and that is a -valid criticism," Mc-
Dermott explained.
Barnes agreed with McDermott too: "Artistic
expression -is not necessarily intellectual expres-
sion." Indeed the critic admitted, "If you don't
understand" what goes on in many new publica-
tions, it really doesn't matter."

are COrdia/1~ in
tOan interWeIAfited
'4'ith Our represent
You are Cordially invited
to an interview
with Our representative





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A Nationaal Educational Television Film series prepared under the direction
of HU$TQN SMITH, Professor of Philosophy, M.I.T., author of RELIGIONS
OF MAN (available in paperback)
JAN. 28-FEB. 7 FEB. 4-9
Hinduism: -Part 2 Buddhism: Par t 1
H induism: Part 3 Buddhism: Part 2

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