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Let’s hear it for classy college theater. The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), an organization that is looking to “improve the quality of college theatre in the United States,” has selected the University of Akron Theater program’s fall production of “The Bacchae 2012” for its annual regional festival competition. The play was directed and adapted by James Slowiak (who co-founded and directs in the Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture/New Performance Lab).

Slowiak’s “The Bacchae 2012” is one of only six full-length plays chosen for performance during the KCACTF Region 2 festival at Towson University in Towson, Maryland, officials noted. The festival performance will be on January 13 at 8:30 p.m. in Towson’s Stephens Hall Theatre.

Slowiak based his version on the 1993 play “Bacchae 2.1” by Charles Mee, which itself is a take off of the Greek tragedy by Euripides.

The original Euripides play was about worship, specifically of Dionysius as the god of wine, ritual madness and ecstasy. The young god isn’t being worshipped, but more to the point his birthright has been called into question. He returns to his native Thebes in disguise to seek vengeance over the mistreatment and death of his mother and to establish his rights as a god who is to be adored.

Mee changed structure, setting, and plot elements – that is, all the stuff of playwriting – and even presented his Dionysius as a transvestite in combat boots as adoring women, the Bacchants, as third world foreign women. Mee also brought in modern sounding elements, like jive music and the like.

Not to worry about further rip-offs by Slowiak. Mee encouraged people to “pillage” his play and make it their own (warning that if they did it as he had written, they had to be exact and seek permission). Slowiak avoids all that.

"The Bacchae 2012," scene. Photo from www.pluggedincleveland.com

“The Bacchae 2012,” scene. Photo from www.pluggedincleveland.com

In the UA production, the setting shifts from ancient Thebes to modern Akron. Audience members, we are told, are invited to sit around a communal table and partake in soup and beverages, while elements of vaudeville, gospel music, torch songs and ethnic dance are incorporated into the provocative production. Post-show guided discussions touch on the show’s themes of feminism, gender identification, and connection to place.

“The Bacchae 2012” is the second UA production selected by KCACTF in recent years. The first, in 2003, was “Winesburg, Ohio,” was also directed by obviously talented Slowiak.

James Slowiak, director of "The Bacchae 2012." Photo courtesy of The University of Akron

James Slowiak, director of “The Bacchae 2012.” Photo courtesy of The University of Akron

The University of Akron will present a special, pre-festival performance of James Slowiak’s “The Bacchae 2012” on Wednesday, January 9, in Daum Theatre in Kolbe Hall, The University of Akron, 328 Buchtel Ave., Akron; 330-972-7895; www.uakron.edu/dtaa. Tickets are $25.

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