Go See: The Irresistible
Review by: Meredith Spencer
Would you rather spend a Saturday night with an uptight, suicidal socialite or the Greek god of giving no fucks? Why not both? ‘The Irresistible’ combines the parlor games of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabbler and The Bacchae, Euripides’ Dionysian great tragedy of good times, political persecution, and filicide.
The literary link between the two source texts is seemingly superficial. Deep in the second act, Hedda reflects on the memory of ex-lover, Eilert Lovborg wearing Dionysian grape leaves in his hair as he reads poetry. Shortly thereafter she’s able to manipulate the reformed boozer to fall hard off the wagon and into a chaotic tailspin that spells The End for both them—including a dalliance with a prostitute named Diana—aka the virginal goddess of the hunt. Serious intellectual types and Google searches will tell you there’s an argument for deeper allegory. Your milage on the intertexuality may vary (it’s all very Jungian or something like that, babe). Nevertheless the experience as a whole is a great time. Each text plays out in parallel, pitting the formalism of Ibsen’s domestic drama against the chaos of Euripides (spoiler alert: someone will get their head ripped off, by their mom), and the two are tied together with excellent performance-driven punk rock from Huff This!
Adapted and directed by Caleb Hammond with April Sweeney as the titular Hedda and Greg Zuccolo anchoring The Bacchae as Dionysus, the immersive production stretches through two rooms in Immersive Gallery on Bedford. The Tesmens’ oppressively flower-filled flat is more traditionally staged, with two floor-to-ceiling projection screens further separating the action from the audience. The Bacchae’s set is starkly outfitted—lit by a single overhead and containing only the barest of Dionysian essentials: the chorus (Huff This! accompanied a handful of sinuous dancers) and wine. Projection panels at the back allow the audience to take in the drama from the Tesman household as it unfolds on the second stage. While there’s a natural tendency to move back and forth between rooms as action shifts between the two, you’d be quite well served to post up with the band and a glass of wine and observe Hedda and company through the lens of the camera. The close-ups are well-composed and Ibsen’s characters have a tendency to gush confessionally—revealing the finer shift of Hedda’s progression from bored to bitter to outright bonkers.
While the stories unfold at a near equal pace, the Tesman drama seems to dominate. The staging of The Bacchae is allows the audience to quite literally get on the same level as the action, and while the experience is more immersive…something about it is not quite as satisfying as it could be, perhaps due to the audience’s strongly ingrained instinct to self-separate from performers and cling to the edges of the room. The trial and persecution unfold with. Bacchus himself boasts great presence as a ringmaster for the overall show and heavy lifter of his own storyline. Capricious, cunning, and every-so-slightly queeny, he’s great fun to watch.
Huff This! is about as good a chorus as a modern bacchanal could get. Fronted by Alison Clancy the dynamic mix of performers includes Hira Lupe, Hitomi Nakamura, Jennifer Eden, Sonny Ratcliff, and Mollie Downes. Scenes can be punctuated with anything from classical piano interludes to a fast-and-furious punk poem. Clancy and company have roots in the dance world and with two lovely goddess-esque chorus girls as co-horts, each performance is as seductive as it is sonically pleasing. Everything culminates in a throbbing punk rock coda that brings the whole cadre of maenads out for final celebration of the pleasure principal and a farewell to those party poopers who stood in the way of a good time (spoiler: all the uptight, rational types in both plots are d-e-a-d). In the end, there’s no arguing with the gods. Grab your grape vines and go.
‘The Irresistible’ runs Fridays and Saturdays, April 17, 18, 24 and 25 at 9pm at Immersive Gallery – 132 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Tickets $15, cash bar.
Cover pic by: Jamie Nelson