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Hawksley Workman brings the Bacchanalia to Ottawa in The God that Comes

By Laura Freitag on June 11, 2013

The God that Comes is a delightful cocktail of cabaret, Greek tragedy, avant-garde theatre, one-man show, musical, queer theatre, and rock concert. This show will undoubtedly draw two types of audiences: the theatre fan and the Hawksley Workman fan. Neither will be disappointed.

Adapted from The Bacchae by Christian Barry and Hawksley Workman, the play is a decidedly musical and modern twist on the Greek classic. In The Bacchae, a straight-laced ascetic Soldier-King named Pentheus is pit against the original hedonist, Bacchus (sometimes referred to as Dionysus), god of wine and ecstasy. Pentheus disrespects Bacchus and his orgiastic gatherings. Bacchus grows angry and causes Pentheus’ subjects—mother, Agave included— to rip him limb from limb.

I must confess, I am sucker for good adaptations, and this piece fits the bill. Good adaptations are able to explore and emphasize aspects of a piece that otherwise lie unnoticed or under the surface. The God that Comes is an immensely enjoyable, playful and intelligent adaptation. In particularly striking numbers, where Workman voices Pentheus, he uses parts of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to highlight his military past. The play works hard to humanize Pentheus, giving lyrical images of the soldier returned home after being deeply affected by war.

Workman then voices Bacchus, a character much more akin to Workman’s own theatrical style.  His Bacchus is sexy, smutty, playful (of note is the “Ukelady Boy” number) and dangerous. Staying true to The Bacchae, Workman gives the audience a Bacchus that is both loveable and menacing.

The piece’s only weakness is in the character of Agave. Although much of the tragic and theatrical catharsis lies upon Agave’s shoulders as she mourns her act of tearing apart her own son, her role in the tragedy feels the least compelling. Like many productions of The BacchaeThe God that Comes drags a tad towards the end (as most tragedies are wont to do).

The imaginativeness of The God that Comes is only upstaged by the talents of Hawksley Workman. The sound is perfect. The songs are smart, original, and energetic. And Workman’s vocal range is incredible. His performance is reason enough to go see the play. That said, thanks to Barry, the theatre is top notch, too.

The God that Comes runs as part of the Magnetic North Festival. A festival devoted to nurturing unique and new theatrical productions which runs from June 7, 2012 to June 15, 2013. Along with The God that Comes, the festival boasts a strong bill including: For the Pleasure of Seeing Her, The War of 1812, A Brimful of Asha, Winners and Losers, Peter and Valerie, SubDevision, and numerous talkbacks and events over the week.

The God that Comes runs from June 8, 2013 to June 11, 2013 at the NAC.