Stage review: Rock musical goes way way back

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A half-century or so ago, a professor of mine described Dionysius, the irresistible force of passion who rules Euripides' "The Bacchae" (c. 406 B.C.), as "like a libidinous youth or rock musician."

Granted, rock musicians seemed more unruly and anarchic in those days. But that lecture was prophetic, because Hawksley Workman, who can't then have been even a gleam in his parents' imaginations, demonstrates exactly that point with invention, wit and the shudder of dark myth in his narrative rock musical, "The God That Comes," the last performance piece in the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's monthlong Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts (the same folks who gave us the giant Rubber Duck).

This is musical storytelling of a high if seemingly offhand order in which this multitalented, iconoclastic playwright, musician and actor plays all the parts, assisted only by lighting and some mannequins who stand for various figures he isn't playing at any given moment. It hardly seems like a solo show, however, so deftly does Mr. Workman embody many people, moving from keyboard to percussion to harmonica to guitar to ukulele and sometimes just by changing his tone of voice, vocal style or point of view.

In this way he switches easily from the contemporary emcee who summarizes the story and tells us the real performer will be along shortly to all those musicians, ancient characters and divinely possessed or cynical vocalists whom he then channels. In one of his guises he even provides a concluding modern moral, the one part of his enthralling 75-minute show I could have done without.

He is, you could say, a throwback to the most ancient, pre-Euripidean Greek theater, composed of choric odes with one actor stepping forward in different masks to represent individual voices.

The title, "The God That Comes," has an obvious double meaning, referring to both the inevitability of the god's arrival and the sexual nature of his power. It's not just this sly eroticism and the 10 p.m. curtain time that make the story unfit for the young, but also the ecstatic rites that result in the self-obsessed, Dionysius-denying King being ripped to bloody shreds by a pack of revelers led by his own mother.

Gruesome, yes, but human. Mr. Workman's version of the story also has plenty of humor, as well as mesmerizing music and the strange invention of his telling which, ultimately, touches on the mystical.

"The God That Comes" is presented by the 2b theatre company from Halifax, Nova Scotia, at the Cabaret at Theater Square, 655 Penn Ave. Its final performance is tonight at 10. Tickets: $25; 412-456-6666 or trustarts.org.


Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson is at 412-216-1944.

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