Review: DION, A Rock Opera

by Lynn on February 9, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Coal Mine Theatre, Toronto. Produced by Coal Mine Theatre. Playing until March 3, 2024.

Composed by Ted Dykstra

Libretto by Steven Mayoff

Directed by Peter Hinton Davis

Musical director, Bob Foster

Choreographer, Kiera Sangster

Set and costumes by Scott Penner

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound by Tim Lindsay

Cast: Max Borowski

Saccha Dennis

Kaden Forsberg

Allan Louis

Allister MacDonald

Jacob MacInnis


Carly Street

Kelsey Verzotti

Band: Piano, Bob Foster

Guitar, Percussion, Haneul Yi

Bass, Kat McLevey

Seductive, provocative and disruptive, with a compelling performance by Jacob MacInnis as Dion.

The Story. The story is based on The Bacchae by Euripides. Dionysus is the God of wine, intoxication, sensual pleasure, you name it. In this case, the name is Dion (they/them), a non-binary, self-proclaimed Demi-God). The god Zeus was their father and the mortal Semele was their mother. She died in childbirth. Dion has come to lead the people (mainly women) of a city-state (Thebes) “somewhere in time,” into the hills to drink intoxicants, dance naked and enjoy a state of ecstasy. They have ulterior motives for all this.

Pentheus, the hot-headed, right-wing leader of this city-state, arrives back from being away to learn of this troubling situation. Pentheus’ mother Agave is one of the runaways, as is his uncle Cadmus. Agave has issues with her father Cadmus because he loved her dead sister Semele more than he loved Agave and that’s left her bitter and angry. Cadmus in the meantime is in deep mourning for his dead daughter.

Pentheus decides to find Dion in the hills and face them with the truth—that Semele was wanton and not a ‘bride’ of Zeus; that Dion is human and not at all God-like. Dion seeks and gets their revenge on Pentheus for such a slander.

The Production and Comment. Composer Ted Dykstra and librettist, Steven Mayoff have created a sung-through rock opera based on Dionysus, or Dion for short. And while it’s based on a Greek myth, DION is a theatrical creation for our modern times.

Scott Penner has created an evocative set. The audience sits on either side of a red strip playing area that runs the length of the space. At either end is a pedestal on which is either a statue of a naked man or a naked woman, draped with a swath of material, looking into a mirror. There are two chairs at either end facing the playing area. Two members of the chorus sit quietly in the chairs at either end, as the audience files in. Again, Scott Penner has designed costumes that are seductive—bare-midriffs, fishnet stockings, boots, pants with wild phrases on them: “EVOE,” “divinity,” “sex,” etc. They are also witty. I note crowns peppered in the material of one member of the chorus that is reminiscent of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s crowns in his artwork. The crowns seem like a witty choice to include for a follower of the equally iconoclastic, Dion.

Tiresias enters, played by the exquisite SATE, and sings “The Word Evoe.” It’s an archaic word that means “the exclamation of Bacchic frenzy.” Ted Dykstra’s music up-ends our expectations of a rousing rock opera opening. The music is intoxicatingly melodic and understated. Steven Mayoff’s lyrics are crisply, expressively sung by SATE as the blind Tiresias. Tiresias sings that Evoe can mean joy or pain and many other things. “The Word Is Evoe” is a perfect song for a world that has gone insane. One can imagine that Evoe is part of the word “devotion” at its most crazed intensity. The song gently brings the audience into the dark world of director Peter Hinton-Davis’s vision for the piece.

Dykstra’s music is melodic and throbbing like a heart-beat or like sexual panting. Steven Mayoff’s libretto is bristling with intelligence, wit and envisions the wild, almost out of control world the characters and we live in.     

Dion (a mesmerizing Jacob MacInnis) is a supreme influencer of the hedonistic life, with ulterior motives of revenge. Through manipulation, seductive cajoling and a careful supplying of intoxicants, Jacob MacInnis as Dion ‘gently’ addles the brains of their followers to do their bidding. It’s more than fandom for rock stars. It’s more insidious than that.  MacInnis is watchful—their deep-set eyes pierce into the abyss and into the troubled soul of any doubter. Each song is sung in a clear, pure voice. The movement is never rushed—the hold they have on their followers is tight. It’s a mesmerizing performance of an artist with compelling power.

On the other hand, Pentheus, as played by Allister MacDonald, is an explosion of constant rage. Pentheus has the makings of a perfect dictator as energetically portrayed by Allister MacDonald. He has nothing good to say about those who work for him. He is a master of technology and spews lies and invective through his texts and his bombastic speech. He is all threats and swagger. He is easy pray for Dion.

Agave (Carly Street) and Cadmus (Allan Louis) are the wounded souls at the other end of the spectrum. Agave pines to be loved by her father Cadmus. Carly Street plays Agave with a ground-down grace; in this world she is lost and angry at her father. Allan Louis first appears as Cadmus, fastidiously dressed in a tailored suit and gleamingly shined shoes. When they both meet as part of Dion’s followers their decorum has been shed and they are in the throws of the intoxicating revere. It’s then that they are able forget their rage and grief and forge a new respect, that is until Dion has one last trick to play.

Kiera Sangster has choreographed the piece with a lively sexuality involving the Chorus and the various participants. Bonnie Beecher’s lighting is vivid. At times cones of light encase both Dion at one end of the space and Pentheus at the other. For Dion it’s empowering. For Pentheus it seems confining. There is a lot of impressive work done by the Chorus who flip and twirl florescent rods of changing light.

The confining and hedonistic world of DION is beautifully rendered in Peter Hinton-Davis’ vision of this world. Sordid? Intoxicating? Mesmerizing? It’s all of them.

Coal Mine Theatre presents:

Plays until March 3, 2024.

Running time: 70 minutes (no intermission).

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Trevor Cole March 7, 2024 at 11:07 am

My wife and I are huge fans of Coal Mine but we didn’t love this production. The performers were quite strong, but the music was repetitive and the libretto, for me, was a little juvenile at times, with some rather silly forced rhymes. I struggled to connect emotionally with any of the characters. Some great scenes and visuals though.