Back in 2000 a production of The Bakchai premiered at the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Theatre as part of their celebration of Black History Month:
Directed by Theatre VCU associate professor Marvin Sims, the play takes a look at an ancient icon, breaking stereotypes of location, language, meaning, and imagery. The play centers on the god Dionysus, disguised as a charismatic young holy man, accompanied by his women, called Bacchantes, who serve as the chorus. They arrive in North Africa from Asia, intent on establishing his worship. Turned aside by the community, which rejects his divinity, Dionysus’ success is thwarted by the community’s king, Pentheus.
A signature component of the Richmond community’s celebration of Black History Month, this interpretation of “The Bacchae,” a classic tale of tyranny, vengeance and religious zealotry, is distinct in its African and Far Eastern settings. Sims chose the settings to reflect the geographic areas under the political control of Greece at the time the play was written. He relies on the imagery of masks created by Lydia Thompson, Ph.D., artist and assistant dean of VCU’s School of the Arts, as well as the use of accents, to weave these cultures together.