Arts, Feature, Fredericton, Opinion, Review, St. Thomas University, Students, Theatre, Theatre St. Thomas

The Bacchae: Lisa Anne Ross tackles gender fluidity and moral extremes

Don’t mess with the gods: advice that is heeded by humans in the latest Theatre St. Thomas production. Enter demi-god Dionysus, son of Zeus, self-indulgent and self-assured as he towers over his cult of sexually spell-bound followers who huff and puff in ecstasy with his every move. Now, enter Pentheus, king of Thebes – the city that Dionysus craves revenge over for disbelieving him as a god. Its ruler is the only one who dares to look Dionysus in the eye without being overcome with the erotic infection the demi-god has begun to spread across the land. Soon, the king will find out that his raging testosterone and prison chains hold no power over the unleashed Dionysian powers.

The Euripides tragic play is over 2400 years old, but feels revived and oddly fit for 2016 with director Lisa Anne Ross’ take on it. Even with the long, complex Grecian dialogues the actors and actresses spit out effortlessly, the audience is pulled in by more than just the story.

Dionysus, portrayed by the uncomfortably captivating Alex Rioux, walks into the first scene from behind the disarrayed walls of the Black Box Theatre. He is dressed in a skin-tight black garment and a lacy black top, embellished with a black sparkly corset, matching elbow-length gloves, Mary Jane-style platform heels, and devil horns. He summons his animalistic followers, the Bacchae, into a dance routine to M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” – something that leaves the audiences wondering how it made its way out of the strip club and into STU’s campus. We are not sure what or who he is, but we cannot look away.

The Bacchae constantly grunt, moan, and sway their hips rousingly at the sight and sound of their beloved Dionysus. Clad in lace, chains, fur and lipstick – though not much else – they look like they’re on their way to a burlesque show or a gothic-themed rave. They murder to the sounds of remixed-Fleetwood Mac and perform rituals to “The Sound of Music.” The group lures in outsiders via sexual summoning and sing and dance in ways that are reminiscent of a tribal cult. They are bad but, for whatever reason, no one can overcome them.

Though the Bacchic frenzy and exploration of movement can be distracting, it doesn’t take away from the messages the story offers. Obvious tones of gender fluidity and homoeroticism reveal themselves. The relationship of religion and sex – and how they overpower or seduce in similar ways – is out in the open for all to see. The riff between Dionysus and Pentheus demonstrates law and order, but also extremes of morals and the ambiguity of madness. The Euripides-meets-Lady-Gaga play suggests that too much madness and excess cause chaos, but not accepting it or maintaining moderation is just as bad. Basically, they’re trying to tell us that extremism of any kind never leads to any good – something that is just as relevant today as it was 2400 years ago.

The Bacchae is not for the faint of heart. It is not for those who are uncomfortable being made to feel uncomfortable. But it is for those who enjoy distorted views of reality and answers to questions they don’t want to ask.

Originally written for a class at St. Thomas University.

New Brunswick, Opinion, Politics

Open Letter to Premier Brian Gallant

22 February 2015

Premier Brian Gallant:

I would like to begin by congratulating you on your new position in the New Brunswick legislature. I am hopeful that a new party in office will bring great, progressive change within this little province, and I look forward to seeing how you take advantage of the opportunities.

Particularly, I am writing to you today to address one of your most recent decisions. It is my understanding that you plan to cut the salaries of each cabinet member, including yourself, by 15%. At a first thought, because there has been a debate over the amount of money that politicians make for decades, I saw this as a very liberal and sensible effort. It seemed fair and gracious to me that this change be made with the citizens of New Brunswick in mind (in order to get rid of the province’s deficit and create jobs).

With that said, the more I thought about it, the less generous this idea seemed to me. “What’s the point?” I thought. Need I remind you, Mr. Gallant, that you currently receive two separate paychecks? CTV News stated that, as of February 9, you make $79 000 per year as MLA of Shediac Bay-Dieppe, and another $85 000 per year as the premier of New Brunswick – this adds up to a whopping $164 000 per year. Please accept my condolences – that pending 15% cut, which will only reduce your less-endowed paycheck, must be such a setback for your bachelor lifestyle outside of politics.

As somebody who is not of your stature – specifically a first-year university student who is currently unemployed as I focus on my studies, living in rural New Brunswick with my parents who live paycheck-to-paycheck, barely making more than 40-50 thousand dollars combined during a good, prosperous, steady year – I must admit that I am insulted by this proposal. Do you know what it’s like, Mr. Gallant, to have your power shut off in the middle of winter because you needed groceries that week? Or maybe you’ve gone an entire summer without the luxury of internet or satellite TV because you were behind on some bills? I am outraged and disheartened that you might assume that the façade of money could shadow the harsh, empty reality of our province’s economic state.

To tell the people of New Brunswick – the vast majority of which is either unemployed, struggling to keep or find a job within this economy, or forced to leave the province altogether in order to provide for themselves and their families (something, thankfully, you don’t have to worry about) – that this salary decrease is directly beneficial to them is a blatant lie. The reality is that the reason for these salary cut-backs is due to the fact that you plan to ward off criticism when your government makes future cuts to civil service jobs and other similar services. This will undoubtedly have a ripple effect throughout the economy: not only will this put the people who are currently in those job positions, but it will be hellish for small rural jobs that are struggling as it is.

The people who devote their lives to these small jobs that nobody else wants to do are the heart of this province. They work hours upon hours every single day to provide for themselves and their families in a province that doesn’t make any promises, and they don’t complain. The dignity of the work that the lower and middle class people in New Brunswick pour their blood, swear, and tears into is astounding, though often shadowed by the money signs in the eyes of the powers that be. These people deserve to be able to provide a dignified livelihood for themselves and their family all on levels – material, social, whatever. No one in this province should be denied access to maintaining their values and quality of life when they work for it on their own terms.

So, as I write to you today, I beg you to forget about the money, Mr. Gallant. Forget about hiding behind dollar signs (or supposed lack-thereof), and take a moment to think: the economy must serve the people, not vice versa. It is not about a balance sheet; it’s about people working and being able to do that to make whatever life they want for themselves. That 15% cut you’re so concerned about doesn’t compared in the slightest to people living in fear of losing their job or being laid off because of some silly deficit. If you love this province as much as you should, you will create ways to keep it alive yourself rather than sitting back and waiting to see what happens.

I wish you luck, Mr. Gallant. Even more, I beg you to prove me wrong.


Sarah Betts

Originally written for a class at St. Thomas University.