The only items missing from Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ambitious but messy “Girls,” having its world premiere at Yale Rep, are cellphones. Otherwise, this modernization of Euripides’ weird 5th century BCE “Bacchae” fits right in with our current solipsistic society where self is all and we communicate, if you can call it that, via technology.
Indeed, one of the first lines of dialogue, spouted by Deon (an appealing Nicholas L. Ashe), the androgynous figure based on Dionysus, is “I’m not here for anybody but myself.” The Greek god of wine, theater and ecstasy is the embodiment of chaotic, orgiastic, private emotions (as opposed to Apollo’s steady, civilized , public intellect) has come to “a dense thicket of woods” (beautifully designed by Adam Rigg) to avenge his mother’s death. (In mythology, Dionysus is the son of Zeus’ mating with a mortal woman, Semele. Here she, or her shade, is embodied in huge puffs of smoke.)
The women (and a few men) who follow Deon into the forest are a frenzied lot. Each has her or his moment in the spotlight, espousing on everything from revenge to ergonomic chairs, the latter strikingly delivered by Ayesha Gordon. Chief among the mob is Gaga (Jeanine Serralles), searching for her sisters while going increasingly bonkers.
Meanwhile, we see Gaga’s son Theo (Will Seefried), a young white supremacist with a yen for guns, contemplating a mass killing, talking to his computer via a live feed on a large, upstage screen. He’s visited by Dada (Tom Nellis), his grandfather, and Rere (Haynes Thigpen), a blind man modeled on the ancient prophet Tiresias, who turns up later in several guises: a cowherd (which is serially confused with “coward”), a sheriff and an officer.
Through what seems like a druggie haze – an evening at the old Studio 54, perhaps – can be glimpsed a rebellion of a plebian female mob against the male establishment. By the time this has become clear, however, your eyes have begun to glaze over.
Which is not to say “Girls” is not vividly staged by director Lileana Blain-Cruz and choreographer Raja Feather Kelly, with the splendid assistance of costume designer Montana Levi Blanco, lighting designer Yi Zhao, sound designer Palmer Hefferan and projection designer David Bengali. Yale doesn’t stint on production details.
Yet, in this case at least, you may ask “to what effect?” It remains a conundrum.