And the lack of seeking extends, dishearteningly, into her work with the principals. Groff, so wonderful elsewhere at tracing the nuances of neurasthenic perplexity, seems utterly devoid of godly assurance; Mackie, sharp and forceful, gives barely a hint of the undercurrents stirring in Pentheus. The others, all redoubtable artists, fulfill expectations mechanically. The show's one triumph, in acting terms, is the long solo that Akalaitis has wisely left undecorated, sculpting it purely out of the actor's face and voice: Rocco Sisto's lament, as the messenger who describes Pentheus's hideous death. Nothing before or after this moment of devastating horror, which is also a moment of pure theatrical bliss, has the grip that The Bacchae, 2,500 years after its first performance, should and can still offer its audiences.

Rule 1: Don't peep at bacchants. Anthony Mackie, center, and the Public Theater's Central Park cast.
Joan Marcus
Rule 1: Don't peep at bacchants. Anthony Mackie, center, and the Public Theater's Central Park cast.

mfeingold@villagevoice.com

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