Dionysus Project turns spotlight on addiction
by Bailey Richards
Several renowned actors came to Hazard last week as a part of a dramatic reading and panel discussion aimed at fighting drug addiction.
The Dionysus Project works to create an open and emotional environment through the dramatic reading of a Greek myth. Following the performance, a panel of local experts discussed the issues facing the region regarding addiction.
The Dionysus Project was in part created by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. This foundation has worked with actors doing dramatic readings of Greek myths to foster discussion of several different social issues including post-traumatic stress. This project was brought to Hazard through a partnership with The Partnership for a Drug Free America, Operation UNITE and Outside the Wire.
The reading and discussion were held at the Perry County Library on May 3.
Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg, Tony nominee Kathleen Chalfant, HBO TV actor Adam Driver, and Broadway actor Peter Francis James all came to Hazard to perform the “Bacchae,” an act from an ancient Greek play by the playwright Euripides. The play tells the tale of Dionysus, the god of wine and intoxication.
Dionysus appears in the play in several forms, but in the act read at the library he is a charismatic preacher. The preacher, played by Adam Driver, convinces many of the town’s women to drink wine and frolic in the woods. They become heathens, hunting with their bare hands and ripping animals to shreds.
The king, played by Jesse Eisenberg, does not believe in the new god and hates seeing the citizens of this territory act like animals. The preacher convinces him to go to the woods and see what the women are really doing. His own mother, played by Kathleen Chalfant, intoxicated on the new wine, confuses her son with an animal and rips him a part. She mounts his head on a spike and parades what she thinks is an animal through town.
When she finally has a moment of clarity because her father, played by Peter Francis James, forces her to look at his face, she realizes she has just killed her own son, the king.
The play was read to show that intoxication and addiction have not changed in 2,500 years. Kathleen Chalfant said that she heard a story when she was at another performance in Clay County that reflected the story perfectly.
“We heard stories this afternoon, a father was so stoned that he drove over his three-year-old daughter with his car and had no idea that he had done it,” said Chalfant.
The actors said that it is amazing that the nature of addiction has not changed in thousands of years. The story of the father so closely relates to the story written so long ago. It is stories like this and the desire to use their talents for good that brought the actors to join the Dionysus project.
“Well obviously I am interested in social issues just like everybody else, and this is kind of a unique way to use what I do for a job, which is acting and preforming, to affect or be a apart of some kind of substantive issue,” said Eisenberg. “In this case we are talking about substance abuse.”
Both Eisenberg and Chalfant have worked with Bryan Doerries, who wrote and produced this interpretation of the “Bacchae” before. Eisenberg said that the emotional and honest performances help open up audience.
“What we have discovered through preforming these plays and discussing them after, is that the acting and emoting that we do on stage opens up the audience for a dialogue that might not have been comfortable discussing if actors had not been on stage acting crazy,” said Eisenberg.
While these actors that live in New York have of course known about drug addiction plaguing the entire country, they were unaware of the significant difficulties facing Eastern Kentucky concerning prescription pill addiction.
“I have to say I had no idea of the extent of the problem in this part of Kentucky. It is incredibly beautiful, I have to say,” said Chalfant. “It is heart breaking to know about it and it is a great privilege to bring this program to see if in some tiny, tiny way we can help.”
The discussion panel was made up of people working to fight addiction, working in the criminal justice system, medical field and beating their own addition. Perry County Circuit Judge Bill Engle, Pikeville County Schools Director of Safe and Drug Free Schools Marionette Little, Pharmacist Cassee Jones, and recovering addict Josh Huffman.
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