Telluride Theatre’s “Dinner w/ Dionysus,” Energy & Hi Jinx

Telluride Theatre’s “Dinner w/ Dionysus,” Energy & Hi Jinx

Poster“Dionysus” takes place at the Ah Haa School, 300 South Townsend, 8 p.m. through Thursday, 8/22. Reservations required.

Telluride Theatre‘s artistic director Sasha Sullivan has a thing for the naked truth.

Mostly literally.

Think “Burlesque,” her annual celebration of pulchritude with attitude. Or her winter blockbuster, an inspired adaptation of “Hair,” in which the entire cast (minus school teachers) stripped in the name of drugs, sex, rock ‘n roll – and to underline the independence of their characters from authority and freedom from repression of any kind.

Both productions were hot – and not just because of the full frontal. But not nearly as hot as Sasha’s latest  original work, “Dinner with Dionysus” in which the clothes stay on – but the gloves come off.

In the hour-long production, Sasha made her most persuasive case to date that when Telluride Theatre is not  busy filing its coffers with tried-and-true hits like “Hair,” her company is all about making waves. So, if you park any preconceptions about what an evening of theater is all about at the door and let your hair down, we promise you will experience an exciting piece of dramatic hi jinx mostly likely unlike any stage action you have ever seen before. Yes, like “Hair,” the story line has thing to two to say about social convention and letting go, but “Dionysus” does it with a booty shaking intensity that borders on all-out madness. And that no-holds-barred energy generated by the cast delivered what the audience experienced as a seismic jolt. Almost everyone sat on the edge of their seats, then finally rose to their feet with applause.

“I found myself not knowing at all what was going to come next, but also not even trying to figure it out, because I was so captivated in the moment by what was happening on the stage then and there. Also, as a student of theater, I found it wildly entertaining to see the stories I have read about a million times being enacted in the wonderfully intimate space at Ah Haa by such incredible actors/dancers, many of whom I have come to know over the years. From phalli to goats, ‘Dinner with Dionysus’ does a fantastic job of portraying the myths about how the ancient Greek theatre evolved in a modern and seductive way that really gets across the feeling of those wonderful tales,” said Charlotte Delpit, who was also in the audience opening night.

Dionysus was a major, popular figure in Greek mythology and religion. Some say he arrived from the east and is an Asiatic foreigner; others claim his origins were Ethiopia. He is the god of epiphany, often described as “the god that comes.” (Yes a very big deal was made of that gift of a description in the play.) And his “foreignness” as an outsider who arrives/comes on to the scene was essential to his cults, which were all about the god protecting those who chose to live on the fringes of conventional society. In that capacity, Dionysus symbolized all that is chaotic, dangerous, and unexpected. Everything that escapes human reason.

Dionysus was the last god to be accepted onto Mt. Olympus, the youngest and the only one to have a mortal mother. (Zeus was his dad.) He is also an example of a dying-and-rising god, essentially a 19th-century conceit that developed because deities were outgrowths of everyday experiences and natural phenomena, which often end in death. In one story Dionysus is torn apart by the Titans, only to be reborn and immortalized. He is therefore one of a number of gods across ancient cultures whose birth, death, and resurrection parallel the story of Jesus. The parallels extend even further: ritual wine to connote the life source – Dionysus IS the wine – was common in his pagan rituals. Christians believe the Eucharist is the body of Christ and the wine, his blood. And so on…

Dionysus, Bacchus to the Romans, had a reputation for debauchery and excess, which conjures images of orgies for some; celebrations for others. His wine, music and ecstatic dance supposedly freed his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subverted the oppressive restraints of the powerful.

All of the above figured into the plot of “Dinner with Dionysus,” including the fact those orgies or celebrations, take your pick, were the driving force behind the development of Greek theatre.

And as Dionysus, the show’s momentum and trajectory depend on Colin Sullivan. He foments the storm. He is also the calm. Colin plays Dionysus as a master puppeteer pulling all strings for his amusement (and survival). And he is riveting. At one point in a dance, Colin pulls a Gene Kelly (in “Singing in the Rain”), literally climbing the wall. A charismatic actor, he had the audience, like his maenads, in the palm of his hand.

The rest of the terrific ensemble cast, a mix of Sasha’s regular players – Burgess, Hale, Shane, and Dahlia Mertens – and terrific newbies – Laura Colbert, Layna Fisher, Caroline Grace Moore, Danielle Jenkins, Cat Lee-Covert, Pamela Sante, Marissa Mattys –  were all on their game and clearly having fun – despite the fact (or because of it?) the energy they put out is about equal to two Imogene Pass runs.

To recap the action in “Dinner with Dionysus,” a collaboration among Sasha and her talented cast and crew, think Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on acid. (In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” fairies controlled and manipulated an unsuspecting group of young Athenian lovers in a forest.)

“Dionysus” opens with a dinner party, featuring a cast of characters who got lost on the way to the “Great Gatsby”: privileged, spoiled, and unhappy, except for one young virgin, in town to find an appropriate spouse. (A great job by Moore, first introduced to Telluride audiences in “Hair”). The maenads are the servers at the gathering. When Dionysus takes charge of the evening, wild, primitive, half-animal passions take over and all hell breaks loose.

“Dinner with Dionysus” talks, though dialog is there only to provide a roadmap. (There is one stand-out moment that is all about words, a rap contest between Dionysus and Jesus, Sullivan and Shane at their wacky best.)

“Dionysus” sings and the wonderful sounds are originals from Hale and Burgess. There were many wonderful moments of singing, but one that stands out is the solo, “This Is It,” delivered by Moore.

But it is dance that drives the action, which means the production depended on the creativity of choreographer Lyndia Peralta, who orchestrated the memorable moves in “Hair.” And Lyndia once again outdid herself. Her blocking (with Sasha) created elegant tableaux. And she had the sexy bodies whirling and grooving in nonstop motion. When dance erupts, Jenkins and Lee-Covert take the lead. Hard to take your eyes off those two stars.

As always, Melissa Sumptner Harris’ costumes are perfect. She created most of the ladies’ dresses in the color of wine – and right before your eyes with a few minor adjustments, garments morphed from vintage dinner party to soft and drapey, like updated togas.

Anton Viditz-Ward did the understated set, transforming Ah Haa’s Daniel Tucker Gallery scene without one extraneous detail.

Wine and light food are available for your enjoyment.

“Dinner with Dionysus” is free, although the cast and crew have worked themselves into a sweat for your entertainment, so the $15 suggested donation is well-deserved.

Seating is extremely limited and on a first-come, first-served basis, however, members of Telluride Theatre get reserved seats.

To become a member, go to



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