Well-composed and evocative

Theatre Incarnate take a risk to pull off its greatest success

Here’s a risky bit of theatre that would be almost clownish, in the theatrical sense of the word, were it not for the despair running through it.

Dionysius is Getting Impatient isn’t based on an original Strindberg text; rather, it’s an “adaptive creation” inspired by Strindberg’s life, work and influence on modern drama.

For some, that sentence may read as code for pretentious.

But gifted artists comprise Theatre Incarnate and, in the biggest risk I’ve seen them take at a Master Playwright festival, they’ve pulled off their greatest success yet.

It’s particularly notable given the production is a departure, combining elements of modern dance, physical theatre and the absurd.

In a stark, almost startling white space that looks torn from George Lucas’s science fiction classic THX 1138, three women find themselves at the end of their wits, trapped by the abstract prisons of sex and class.

Perhaps this void is a kind of madhouse, and death is the only available release.

What makes the presentation work is that it feels like there’s something substantive driving it: we sense the weight of the stakes.

The production explores the way women were barely recognized as persons, and demonstrates the potential violence - physical, sexual and psychological - they faced.

Not all men of Strindberg’s time were beasts, but of course many were, and most of European society normalized it.

Simply from an aesthetic point of view, this is a remarkably well-composed piece of theatre; from the design to the costuming to the very structure and sound, there’s a strong sense of unity. There’s great pleasure derived simply from the rhythmic progression, and in the contrasts between noise and silence.

The performances evoke imagery well: there’s vividness in the words, motions and gestures.

When director, cast member and designer Brenda McLean describes a vision of being swallowed by the Earth, it paints such a horrifying image, it would take a poverty of imagination not to be shaken.

Thematically, Dionysius is Getting Impatient is a good companion piece to After Miss Julie, simultaneously running at the MTC Warehouse. The contrast in presentation also showcases the diverse possibilities of theatre.

One purpose of the Master Playwright fests is to provide a well-rounded experience of not only the featured bard, but his or her very art.

Here’s your chance.

Published in Volume 65, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 3, 2011)

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