Here’s a play I wrote for the Dionysia in 2003. I actually had the pleasure of seeing it performed by a Wiccan coven I briefly worked with in Las Vegas; what’s more, I got to play the part of Dionysos.
The Bacchae 2005 or The Burning Bush
George W. Bush
White House Page
Secret Service Agents (3)
Interior of the Oval Office: indicated by a chair, a table, and a flag. George W. Bush is sitting in the chair, Dick Cheney is at his side, and behind them stand the Chorus.
George W. Bush: So how is the invasion going?
Dick Cheney: Very well, Mr. President. Our troops have already taken Paris, and two-thirds of France has been liberated. Things are still a little shaky in Bordeaux where we met with some unexpected resistance, but that should be mopped up by night’s end.
Bush: Have we found any Weapons of Mass Destruction yet?
Cheney: Uh … unfortunately not, Mr. President. And there was some minor protest of our unilateral strike by the international community. But not much. It was France, after all.
Bush: It’s truly a shame that France became a rogue nation. Nice people, the French – though that whole Jerry Lewis thing is a little odd. But I like their bread. And their fries!
Cheney: Yes, well now they’ll be able to enjoy their baguettes with a side of Freedom and Liberty. Once Haliburton has finished rebuilding France’s infrastructure that is.
Chorus: Zeus’ pet eagle no longer sits tamely at the side of the Heavenly Father,
Symbol of justice and far-reaching equanimity.
But now is perched upon the shoulder of dread Ares,
who has burst his brazen bonds and strides through the land,
his dark shadow insighting men to madness and war.
The eagle calls out for blood and vengeance,
Its shrill cry echoed in that of weeping brides and fatherless sons.
Dark days behind us, and darker days to come.
Bush: So how are the other points on our agenda coming along? I’ve got a State of the Union address to prepare.
Cheney: Well, there’s been a slight bump in the road to progress up in Alaska.
Bush: A bump, you say?
Cheney: Yes. It seems that there was a little spill in the Natural Preserve where we’ve been drilling. Nothing major, mind you. Won’t even be a drop in oil prices. But there are a few dead animals and some black beaches now.
Bush: Just great! This is going to look horrible when it hits the news. My ratings are going to plummet.
Cheney: It won’t reach the news, Mr. President. Our trained puppies in the Media say what we tell them to. And as far as they’re concerned, nothing’s happened up there – and nothing will. We’ve already got our men picking up the seal and bird carcasses, and who’s going to notice a few oily rocks?
Bush: I don’t like this. What if all those hippies were right?
Cheney: Mr. President, don’t get all emotional on me. Besides, you can’t make an omelet without a few cracked eggs: progress and financial stability require sacrifice.
Bush: I suppose. Give me some good news, please!
Cheney: Our ‘Defense of Marriage’ Act has passed both Houses – without so much as a peep – and is just waiting for your signature to be made Law, Sir.
Bush: That’s great news! Such a holy and universally esteemed institution must be protected. Why, if we granted equal recognition to those homos, who knows what would be next. I once saw a man on Jerry Springer who made love to his dog. Should they be allowed to get married too?
Cheney: No Sir, they should not. And nothing, not even the Constitution, will stand in our way of upholding decency and God’s own morality.
Bush: Amen! Speaking of which, how are things going on the religious front? What was the response to my declaration to recognize Christianity as our State religion?
Cheney: Well, Sir, it looks promising – I mean, during the elections we did pretty much fill both Houses with loyal men who’ll grant you whatever you ask – but there has been some pretty strong opposition to your proposal. In fact, for the first time in centuries, Jews and Moslems are getting along, peacefully united in their hatred for you.
Bush: What do you mean? Aren’t they Christian too?
Cheney: Uh … no Sir.
Bush: But Jesus was a Jew. It doesn’t matter if they wear those silly little beanies when they do it, we all pray to the same God.
Cheney: They don’t seem to see it that way, Mr. President.
Bush: Well, they had better. We’re in a time of war, fighting for the future of our country. We need all the support we can get – especially from Almighty God himself. Anybody who disagrees with me is clearly un-American, un-Christian, and siding with the terrorists. If they’re not careful, they’ll end up being tried as enemy combatants.
Chorus: O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
A White House Page enters, breathless.
White House Page: Excuse me, Mr. President. I hope I’m not disturbing you, but I’ve got urgent news.
Bush: No, ma’am. We were just finishing up here, right Mr. Cheney?
Cheney: Well, there were a few more things I wanted to address – like my proposal to transfer funds from Medicare to Homeland Security so that we can better spy on those pinkos in Hollywood – but it can wait.
Bush: Very well. So what’s this urgent news you’ve brought me?
Page: Well, Sir … it seems like your daughters are up to it again.
Bush: (holds his head, as if he’s got a headache) What is it this time?
Page: Well, Sir …. (The page looks at the desk, the wall, down at her feet, anywhere but the President.)
Cheney: Out with it now!
Page: Well, Sir … it seems that your daughters are drunk.
Bush: So what’s new?
Page: They’re drunk, and running around the streets of Washington … uh … topless, Sir.
Bush and Cheney: What?!?
Page: Yes. It’s like something out of one of those Girls Gone Wild videos. They’re wearing these odd animal-skin capes and headbands made of ivy and grape-leaves, and other than that, there’s not a stitch of clothing on their bodies.
Bush: But it’s February, for God’s sake! They must be freezing.
Page: They don’t appear to be Sir. But maybe the frenzied dancing and singing are keeping them warm.
Bush: Where are they doing this? Please tell me it’s somewhere out of sight. Some secluded club, where we can go in and make sure that this story never reaches the light of day.
Page: I wish that were the case, Sir. Your daughters are dancing in the streets down below, right in front of the White House gates for all to see.
Bush and Cheney: What?!?
Page: I’m afraid so, Sir. Mixed in with all the protestors and rabble that usually gather out front.
Bush: Oh Jesus Christ, I can’t believe this! How could they do this to me? My enemies are just going to love this. It’s going to be all over the papers. Can you imagine what the headlines will be?
Cheney: This is bad.
Page: It gets worse.
Bush: (bangs his fist on the table) How? How can it get worse than this?
Page: It seems your daughters have joined some kind of free love hippie cult. They’re dancing down there naked at the instigation of a long-haired, bearded cult leader, dressed in strange flowing Arab robes.
Bush: This is too much! I can’t believe this. It has to be some kind of joke. It really isn’t very funny to say things like that, you know. I’ll have your job for this.
Page: Mr. President, I’m telling you the truth. I wish it weren’t true. I wish I wasn’t the one who had to carry this news to you. But it’s my job, and it’s not fair to punish the bearer of bad news.
Cheney: You’ve said enough, now get out of here before we decide to do exactly that.
White House Page exits.
Bush: What are we going to do? I simply can’t believe this. My daughters, daughters sprung from my very own flesh … hippies. This is an outrage!
Cheney: I’ll take care of this for you, Mr. President. We’ll send the Secret Service down there and bust heads until we get your daughters back. They aren’t in their right minds: they’ve been brainwashed by this strange cult leader. We’ll paint the streets red with their spilled blood and brains if we have to, to get your daughters back – and to take this man into custody.
Dick Cheney exits.
Chorus: Down from the Mountain have we come,
To the banks of the Potomac,
And the shining marble of the Nation’s Capitol,
Come out of your homes, o people,
Dawn the fawnskin and lift high the ivied wand,
and sing with us praises to Bromios, the beautiful and boisterous One,
whose simple worship gladdens the heart.
Sweet it is to lose yourself in the dance,
To feel the juice of the grape course through your body,
Stirring your spirit until you toss back your head
And give the ecstatic cry Euoi! Euoi! Io Euoi!
Drunk on the God, we have no care for empty possessions,
And the foolish rantings of angry Kings,
For with Dionysos, we know ourselves free,
And have the Earth’s rich bounty as our inheritance.
Ie ie Bacchos! Io io Bromios!
Bush: Oh, shut up.
Dick Cheney enters, followed by several Secret Service Agents who are holding, between them, the Stranger, his hands bound.
Cheney: We caught the rogue, and he didn’t even put up a fight. He was standing down there, amid a throng of his followers decked out like it was Mardis Gras. They were singing and dancing, some of them playing tambourines, others pipes, and others still plaiting garlands of flowers for the spectators to wear. It was like a party was going on down there – not a protest. But when they saw the Secret Service Agents come near, a change came over the crowd. They began screaming for blood, and hurled the foulest of insults at us. They rushed the gates, and would have broken through, but this one just lifted his hands, and said, “Let them pass unharmed. I have business with the President.” And the wild, raging crowd quieted, lions become lambs as the gates parted and our men walked up to him. He simply held out his hands, and let us cuff him, then let us escort him away, stopping only to say, “Remain still, my Bacchae, and keep your faith. I will soon return.”
Secret Service Agent 1: That’s the power of the gun. It turns even the bravest man into a craven coward.
The Stranger: I am no coward: had I wished, your throat would have been torn out, and you’d be choking on your own black blood, and not your stupid words.
SS Agent 1: (lifts his hand to strike him) Why I ought to!
Stranger: But you won’t.
Bush: Stop! There’ll be plenty of time for that later. First I want to find out what this man’s done to my daughters.
Stranger: I freed them. I helped them discover who they truly were, and brought that out for the world to see.
Bush: You brainwashed them. You corrupted them. You made them do dirty things.
Stranger: I made them do nothing: that was already in their hearts. I simply removed the restrictions. Had your daughters been truly chaste and modest, then that’s what would have come out. But then, you know better than I how your daughters resent the yoke, how wild and sensual their spirits are.
Bush: I don’t need you to tell me about my daughters!
Stranger: (wryly) No, I imagine you don’t.
Bush: Leave us. I want to interrogate this man alone.
SS Agents: Are you sure, Mr. President? What if he …?
Bush: You heard me!
The Secret Service Agents reluctantly leave.
Dick Cheney prepares to leave as well.
Bush: No, not you. You’re my right-hand man.
Cheney: I’m considerably more than that.
Bush: That’s why I need you to stay.
George W. Bush gets up from his chair, and stands in front of the Stranger trying to look intimidating.
Bush: Who are you?
Stranger: I am a Mystery.
Cheney: Don’t get smart with us, what’s your name?
Stranger: I have many names in many lands.
Bush: Then how shall we call you?
Stranger: You may call me Dionysos.
Bush: Do you lead that cult down there?
Dionysos: I lead them from their homes and dreary lives, lead them to the distant mountain, lead them in their sacred songs, lead them as they dance their holy dances, lead them as they celebrate the ineffable mysteries by moonlight. Yes, I am their leader.
Bush: What sort of mysteries are these?
Dionysos: Something only the initiate may know.
Cheney: This is some strange New Age cult, right?
Dionysos: No. My worship is as old as time.
Bush: It’s a scheme. Something you thought up to make yourself rich, and to ruin people’s lives.
Dionysos: Only one as venal as you would think such thoughts. No, my worship is what enriches people’s lives, not your endless chasing after money.
Bush: (touching Dionysos’ robes) Look at how’s he’s dressed. These soft, flowing robes. Why, these are the clothes of a Moslem terrorist. And look at this beard! (grabs the ends of his beard) What’s he hiding under this beard? An evil heart? A sinister nature? A mind plotting against America? No decent man wears a beard. Rasputin, Osama, Saddam: all the villains have got beards.
Dionysos: But you’re clean-shaven.
Bush: What’s that supposed to mean?
Dionysos: You heard me.
Cheney: How dare you say that to the President of the United States of America?
Dionysos: (stands fully upright) How dare he? How dare he claim what is not rightfully his? How dare he parade as a just and upright man, while his nature is base and his heart full of sin? How dare he use deception to enflame the lust for unrighteous war in his people? How dare he trample on the rights of the free individual man, censuring his words, policing his thoughts? How dare he show such contempt for his people, letting the poor languish in destitution and sickness, while bestowing even greater wealth upon his friends? How dare he despoil and exploit the resources of the Earth, generous mother of us all? How dare he flout the laws of his land, bending them to his own corrupt uses? How dare he, indeed!
Cheney: Enough! Stifle yourself, or I’ll do it for you!
Dionysos: Raise a finger against me, and you’ll regret it.
Cheney: What can you do? You’re locked in chains.
Dionysos: I remain in chains only because I consent to.
Bush: Oh yeah?
Dionysos raises his hands and the manacles fall off.
Cheney: (stepping between Dionysos and George W. Bush) Don’t you dare harm the President. You’ll regret it!
Dionysos: I’m not going to harm him. Yet. First he must be given a chance to see the error of his ways and repent. I am a just God, after all.
Bush: There is only one God!
Dionysos: I have met considerably more than that walking through the gilded halls of my Father’s palace on Mount Olympos.
Bush: The only true God is Jesus Christ. In his name, I rebuke this insanity of yours.
Dionysos: (laughs) You would rebuke me by myself?
Bush: You truly are insane! You think you’re Jesus?
Dionysos: I don’t think: I know. For I, Dionysos, am the True Vine. It was I who turned the water to wine; I who healed the sick in spirit; I who bade the women leave their homes to follow me no matter the strictures of family and society; I who purified the temple and made the triumphant procession amid ivy and palms into Jerusalem; I who gave the Apostles the gift of prophecy; I who was hung upon the tree for the remission of sins; and I who rose again; I, whose blood is the wine. I, Dionysos, did all this!
Bush: Blasphemy! I won’t stand here listening to that. Guards! Guards!
The Secret Service Agents come running in. They circle around Dionysos menacingly.
Bush: Get this man out of here! Take him down to the basement for interrogation. Summon John Ashcroft. He’ll know what to do with a man like this.
Cheney: Not so brave now, are you?
Dionysos: Nothing can happen to me at your hands that I do not allow. I go now, humbly, to make my return all the more conspicuous. Soon it shall be you trembling before my might. Fighting against the Gods is as futile as kicking against a stone: you shall see.
Dionysos puts up his hands, and lets the Secret Service Agents lead him away.
Cheney: Did you hear that man? How foolish and audacious he was. The very nerve, speaking to you like that, Mr. President!
Bush: Ashcroft will bring about a change of attitude in him, I’m sure: he has his ways.
Cheney: Even I’m a little squeamish around that man. He raises torture to an art form. He has tools that can remove a man’s tongue without even leaving a mark. I wouldn’t want to be that foolish Dionysos right now.
Chorus: Rise up, O Lord!
No longer suffer the inequities of this unrighteous King with mildness and restraint,
But like boiling lava flowing down the side of a mountain, come, come!
Mad and raving, to inflict terrible destruction upon this fool and lay him low!
Rise up, O Lord!
As you rose up against Pentheus, who vainly sought to oppose your worship in the city of your birth. You drove him into a frenzy of madness, and beneath a pine-tree, his own mother tore him to pieces.
Rise up, O Lord!
As you rose up against Lykourgos, who put your women to flight. You blinded him, and made him think that his son was made of vines, then opened his eyes that he might witness the bloody spectacle he had wrought.
Rise up, O Lord!
As you rose up against the daughters of Minyas, who shunned your sacred rites. You inflicted such hunger upon them that they cast lots to see which of their children they would boil in a pot.
Come, come night-roving Bacchos, terrible to look upon, roaring like thunder, like a bull in frenzy, shake the earth to its core, and topple this arrogant bastard!
The lights suddenly flicker and go out.
Cheney: Ah! The floor is shaking! We’re under attack!
The lights come back on. George W. Bush is cowering under the table.
Cheney: Mr. President! Mr. President! Are you okay?
George W. Bush climbs out from under the table, brushing off his jacket.
Bush: I … I think so. What happened?
Cheney: I don’t know, Mr. President. The whole room shook and then the lights went out. An earthquake, perhaps? Or a bomb going off? Your guess is as good as mine. But at least we’ve got power back.
The Secret Service Agents bust through the door.
SS Agent 1: Oh, thank Heavens, the President is alright!
SS Agent 2: Yes, we got here before he did. Quick! Take up your positions!
The Secret Service Agents spread out around the room, taking up defensive postures.
Cheney: What in the hell is going on here?
SS Agent 3: The prisoner got loose!
Cheney: He’s just one man. Why all the commotion?
SS Agent 2: He’s not a man. Had you seen what we saw, you’d be convinced of that.
Bush: What was the loud boom, and why’d the power go out?
SS Agent 2: The whole earth trembled when he broke his bonds: in death and madness his divinity was made manifest.
SS Agent 3: Shut up, you superstitious fool. It was just a coincidence. There was an earthquake, and in the confusion the prisoner got free. That’s all.
SS Agent 2: How can you deny what you saw with your own eyes? You saw the ivy suddenly appear, covering the walls and twining itself around the table on which the stranger sat. You heard the ghostly sound of drums and cymbals and shrill pipes that came from nowhere and everywhere at once. Saw the floor washed with red wine. Smelled the sweet, cloying incense. Heard things walking about the room that were not there. And finally, you saw the fierce beasts fall upon Ashcroft, tearing him to shreds as we fled in fear. How can you deny what we all saw and heard?
SS Agent 3: Hallucinations; nothing more than hallucinations. When the earthquake happened it must have broken open some of Ashcroft’s nerve gas, and we all started to hallucinate.
Bush: What’s going on? I don’t understand. Where’s the prisoner?
SS Agent 2: He’s on his way here. He’s coming for you, Mr. President.
Cheney: Enough of that! Now tell us what happened. How’d you let him escape: he was just one prisoner!
Secret Service Agent 1: We had no trouble bringing him down to Ashcroft’s interrogation chamber. Like a lamb being led to the slaughter, he meekly let us take him without complaint. In fact, he didn’t say a thing the whole time: he just stood there in eerie silence, his face like an unseeing mask. Even when Ashcroft strapped him to the table and brought out his tools, he uttered not a word. Now Ashcroft’s needles and knives have reduced the hardest men to tears: Saddam he had blubbering like a baby in minutes. But this one, he could not reach, no matter what atrocities he performed on his flesh. We would have thought him dead – there was enough blood on the floor to prove it – but his chest still rose, and his eyes continued to stare, and all the while, that hateful, mocking smile remained on his lips. It drove Ashcroft insane! He began stabbing the prisoner, screaming, ‘Do something, do something!’ And then, the prisoner did something.
Bush: What? What did he do?
SS Agent 1: The earth shook. He sat bolt upright, the straps on the table splitting apart. Ivy, and wine, and music filled the room. And suddenly, we were not alone. Swirling around him as if he were the calm center of a devastating tornado were … things. I can’t say what exactly they were. Now they had one shape, and now another. But they were fierce, and bestial, and I, I who have served my country my whole life, who have faced death in the deserts of Iraq, turned and fled, fear clutching at my heart with it’s black claws.
Cheney: Your story is preposterous! It’s too much to be believed.
SS Agents 1 & 2: Soon, you shall see – and you will believe.
Dionysos enters. The Chorus screams.
Dionysos: I have come! I am Dionysos, the son of Zeus, Lord of the fruitful Earth, who has given man sweet wine for the enjoyment of life, and blessed mysteries to purify his care-worn soul. Down from the Mountain have I come, snowy Nysa where dance the lovely-ankled nymphs and the shaggy-haired satyrs, my dear companions. I have come to Washington because you are an arrogant King, who hates my ways, and would rather send young men to kill and die in gold-hungry conquest than see them lay in loving embrace, their hair soaked in sweat after long hours of honoring me with their bodies. Many times have I come to you, and you did not recognize me. Even when the voice of your people rose up and pleaded for you to put off this crazy bloodthirstiness of yours, and welcome the Goddess Peace once more into your land – you would not listen. And so now I have come, I who am most gentle and most fierce, and now you will listen to me!
Cheney: Don’t just stand there! Get him.
Secret Service Agent 3 steps forward, as if to charge the intruder – but then notices that the other Agents are holding back. He loses courage, and falls back.
SS Agents 1 & 2: No, we won’t fight against a God. Listen to him: what he says makes a lot of sense. You are ruining our country: put on the ivy-crown and dance with us in joyful celebration. Great is the God Dionysos! And great his worship! Io euoi!
Chorus: Io euoi! Io io euoi!
Cheney: Cowards and fools! No, I will never honor this liar, falsely claiming to be a God. I fear no one! Aaaarrrgghh!
Dick Cheney lunges for Dionysos but manages only two steps. Dionysos holds up his hand.
Dionysos: I know how to make a dick go soft.
Dick Cheney clutches his heart, convulses.
Cheney: No! Not again! Aaaaaggghh!
And collapses to the floor, dead.
Dionysos turns toGeorge W. Bush.
Dionysos: O puppet, what will you do, now that your strings have been cut, and your puppet master lies broken?
Bush: I’m not a puppet! I made all the decisions around here.
Dionysos: Then you have a lot to answer for, little man.
Dionysos advances on George W. Bush, who backs up until he bumps into the table.
Bush: I have nothing to answer for. I made all the right decisions. America was attacked! We had to defend ourselves!
Dionysos: Then you should have gone after those who harmed you. When you spill innocent blood, it calls out to heaven. And how do you answer to the crime of stealing from the coffers, while the poor die in the streets from want?
Bush: Being President is hard work: I deserve some reward. The poor will always be with us.
Dionysos: And the law: you claim it is your sacred duty to uphold it, yet you have corrupted its spirit, and used it as a bludgeon against your enemies. You have overstepped your bounds: you have tried to impose your will in places it has no right to go.
Bush: The State is the father of the people: and I am the State. Like any father, it is my duty to protect and guide my children, to correct them when they do wrong.
Dionysos: And so you answer, and stand condemned by your words. You are hateful to me, and I will not allow your arrogance to go unpunished.
Dionysos raises his hands, as if to strike him, and George W. Bush falls to his knees, clutching his head, and weeping.
Dionysos: In times past, I would have brought you down like a stag felled by hounds. I would have torn you to pieces, and took pleasure in your flesh parting beneath my fingers, your warm, red blood gushing out to stain the black earth. I would have delighted in your piteous yelps of pain, would have smiled as you shrieked out your last breath. But these are different times, crueler times, and there are bitches more fierce than my maenads now. I will give you over to them!
The stage clears, replaced by a News Anchorwoman, seated at the desk.
Anchorwoman: And in a stunning turn of events today, President George W. Bush called a halt to all foreign involvement by American troops. He called the invasions of France and other countries, ‘Grossly unjust and uncalled for’ and said that ‘he sincerely apologized for any inconvenience the Imperialistic Military Industrial Complex had caused’. He also disbanded the ‘Patriot Act’, the ‘Defense of Marriage Act’, and the ‘Affirmation of the Christian Religion’ Act – saying that this legislature was ‘insane’ and ‘everything that decent Americans should stand against.’ He has also promised that he will bring about universal healthcare and give tax breaks to the working poor. And, perhaps most shocking of all, President Bush announced today that he will be seeking a divorce from his wife, and replacing her with his new lover, Raoul Hernandez, a Cuban refugee and exotic dancer, who some sources claim, has also worked as a male prostitute. These sudden, sweeping, and drastic changes have met with almost universal condemnation. For special commentary, we now turn to conservative columnist ….