Dionysus Project Sparks Discussion on Ancient Problem of Addiction

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

At an innovative public health event, Phoenix House and partners used Euripides’ Bacchae, a 2500-year-old Greek play about the destructive power of intoxication, to explore the timeless struggle of addiction.

Phoenix House partnered with the Partnership at Drugfree.org and social impact company Outside the Wire to create the “Dionysus Project”—an event that dramatized Bacchae through readings and discussions that broke down the stigma of addiction.

Keith David, Michael Stahl-David, Tate Ellington, Ana ReederActors Tate Ellington (“The Good Wife”), Michael Stahl-David (“Cloverfield”), Keith David (“Crash,” “Requiem for a Dream”) and Ana Reeder (“Hedda Gabler”) brought the play to life during two dramatic readings held in Los Angeles, California. The play tells how a frenzy of intoxication leads to the tragic downfall of a single family over the course of one day. Agaue, read by Reeder in a dynamic performance, kills and beheads her own son because intoxication fools her into thinking that he is a mountain lion. As the intoxication wears off and Agaue sees her son’s head in her hands, she cries in a moment of recognition, “I see the greatest grief.”

After the readings, a panel of addiction experts and artists engaged the audience in a discussion about the play and its application today. Panelists for the dialogue—bestselling author and actress Melissa Gilbert, actor Rob Belushi, UCLA Research Psychologist Rachel Gonzales-Castaneda, author Dan Fante, and former musician Peter Stuart—reacted to the readings, talked drug policy and the stigmatization of addiction, and also shared personal stories of struggles with addiction.

When moderator Brian Doerries, Artistic Director of Outside the Wire, asked how adult role models influence the next generation, Gilbert spoke of how her own struggle with addiction affected her children. Her youngest child still remembers having a mother who struggled with substance abuse.

Actor and panelist Rob Belushi connected with the youth in the audience when he spoke candidly about his own teenage drug addiction. The youth, some of them clients with Phoenix House Academy of Los Angeles, quizzed the panelists and shared their own stories. One teenager responded to Belushi’s talk and spoke of how he sought out Phoenix House when he realized he couldn’t get sober on his own. Two generations connected through a play that showed how addiction has impacted not just modern society but ancient civilizations, too.

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