Dionysus is well known as the god of wine and revelry, but he’s also the god of theater. The first plays of Western Civilization were created to honor him as part of an annual, week-long festival. As such, he appears often in ancient Greek drama: as a “paunchy, middle-aged man” in Aristophanes’s The Frogs and “soft, effeminate and beardless” in Euripides’s The Bacchae. These unflattering portrayals are due at least in part to Dionysus’s status as half-mortal. Origin stories vary, but according to one, Zeus, his father, took the form of a serpent in order to visit earth and have sex with the mortal Semele. (Other versions variously identify Persephone and Demeter as Dionysus’s mother.) Zeus then rescued the fetal Dionysus from his dying mother’s womb and sewed the infant into his thigh, where it finished its gestation protected from the jealous eyes of Hera. But once born (again), Dionysus would not stay inconspicuous. As a wee tot, he seized Zeus’s throne on Mount Olympus, horrifying the Titans, including Hestia. Eventually, they avenged this flagrant disrespect; the specifics vary, but nearly all accounts agree that Dionysus was “torn to pieces.”

Of her play about Dionysus, Lily Janiak says, “I’ve never understood the idea of Dionysus. I’m pathologically inhibited, rules and decorum like candy to my docile-child understanding of the world. Rather than seeking to broaden my horizons with this play, I’m attempting to reimagine the god of unselfconscious debauchery in my own un-glorious image. I ask, what if Dionysus were not so much a wild party boy, but more of an accidental reveler, one whom decadence happens around, something of a prude, a prep or a nerd? Is it possible to rework these myths of his origin to explain a god with the opposite personality traits? How would this character react in a contemporary battle of the sexes? And wouldn’t it be funny to stage a scene with one character sewn into another’s thigh?”

DIONYSUS or “Die! Oh nice us!” by Lily Janiak
Directed by Anthony Miller
staged reading on December 5, 2012 at 8 PM

Kat Bushnell (Hestia)

Anthony Pingera (Dionysus)

Shane Rhodes (Dalton)

Ben Grubb (Aar)

Evangeline Reilly (Athie)

Annika Bergman (Aphra)

Mary Powelson (Stage Directions)

Lily Janiak once tried to tutor a makeup artist in ESL and was so bad at it that she was asked to sit still and have stuff put on her face, anything rather than teach, hence this, the only good photo of her ever taken. She’s also a lecturer at SF State and the theater critic for the SF Weekly. If she were reviewing her own play, she’d give it an A for effort.