Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Assignment: Dionysus in Stony Mountain

I’m no stranger to the stage. Though I have rarely been on one, save for some high school plays many moons ago, I’ve been an avid pursuer of live theatre and musicals for a good chunk of my life.

 I have my parents to thank for this. Our family road trips of the past were serenaded by both Andrew Lloyd Webber’s collected works and the Phantom of the Paradise soundtrack. My mom and dad are long-time season ticket holders for the Manitoba Theatre Centre, and so whenever one of them couldn’t make it out, I was able to tag along. The productions that this venue holds are fortunate to have huge budgets, and so the pieces are usually spectacular. 

I think it’s safe to assume that the Rachel Brown Theatre’s production of “Dionysus in Stony Mountain” had a relatively low budget, and relied mostly on the content of the play to carry it forward. 

It began as a one-act production in Winnipeg’s 2009 Fringe Festival, which encompassed the first half of production that ran from March 29 to April 8. This time around the director, Steven Ratzlaff, added an intermission and a second act to further flesh out his characters.
The play deals with many loaded topics, some of which surely went over my head. They include, but aren’t limited to: Nietzche’s theories, drug culture, assimilation, slave morality, child criminals, the justice system, the subjectivity of sanity, religion and a search for meaning. These are all rushed over much too quickly by the two actors, Sarah Constible and Ross McMillan. 

I understand that plays are usually pretty exclusive; based on the price of tickets alone, most live productions are inaccessible to the majority of the population. In the case of “Dionysus in Stony Mountain”, the content also felt exclusionary. I’ve taken a few philosophy courses in university and I could barely keep up with the script. Nevertheless, the Wednesday night showing sold out, but the crowd was noticeably older. A lake of white hair was peppered only by the heads of my classmates.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some great productions at the Rachel Brown Theatre. One that stands out the most in my mind is their 2009 production of “Age of Arousal”, which delved into the lives of suffragettes. In this production, the content was loaded, but it was explored in a more fun and engaging way. 

Clearly “Dionysus in Stony Mountain” had a specific intended audience. I commend the risk that Ratzlaff made in presenting this deep, philosophical play in a medium that is getting overshadowed by the Goliath that is the Winnipeg Jets. However, I think the rapid way in which the script fires off complex theories, and the fact that the first half is essentially a monologue, would be more convincing and engaging if it were unpacked in, say, a novel.  

But that’s just my opinion. I like my plays to be filled with cats, puppets, amazing technicolor dreamcoats, Jesus Christ superstars, sweet transvestites, Argentinean First Ladies, a boy who wants more, producers, Jets (but not the ones on ice) and Sharks (ditto), and of course, a disfigured musician who sells his soul to the devil for the woman he loves.  

Best/Most confusing musical ever

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