Lysistrata (March 13-28, 2009)

If Christina Collins’ adaptation of “Lysistrata” was a project in a college playwriting class and I was her professor, I’d give her an A for audacity. I’d also have to give director Jon Tallman kudos for pure chutzpah. To turn a classical Greek play into a modern sex farce is not an easy thing to do. Mel Brooks could probably do it successfully, but I can’t think of any other modern writer/director who could pull it off, so Collins and Tallman and their cast and crew deserve a lot of credit.

The ancient Greek play by Aristophanes is generally acknowledged as the first instance of a strong female protagonist in Western literature, but as Collin’s says in her director’s notes for the Theater Artists Olympia production at the Midnight Sun, “…the historical context of ‘Lysistrata’ shows it to be somewhat less than the proto-feminist powerhouse it looks like today.”

For those not in the know, “Lysistrata” tells the tale of a band of women who force their husbands to end a war by withholding sexual favors. Peace or no piece. (Was that in the script? I don’t know; the puns flew so fast that I’m sure I missed a few, but it’s certainly typical of the type of lines that kept showing up over and over and over again.)

This play is still provocative and funny. It is anti-war and pro-woman, whether in its classical form or in a modern adaptation. Collins’ adaptation relies heavily on innuendo and word play, and does not shy away from sexual explicitness.

Unfortunately this adaptation comes across a little too much like something written by a talented student who just recently discovered that it is permissible to tell dirty jokes. After about the fortieth erection joke I began to get tired of them, and halfway through the magistrate’s masturbation scene I wanted to shout out, “Enough already. We get it.” Actually, a woman seated behind me did shout out something very much like that.

One of the most inventive aspects of the script is changing the traditional Greek chorus to one couple: Pug Bujeaud as “Old Woman” and Eric Mark as “Old Man.” They are both delightful.

The four women who make up the core of the army of women are also outstanding. They are: Raychel A. Wagner as Lysistrata, Lauren O’Neill as Calonice, Erin Maggie Stroyan as Myrrhine, and Katie Youngers as Lampito. These four characters could easily have been stereotypes, but they come across as distinct individuals, a tribute not only to their acting but to Collins’ writing and Tallman’s direction — which makes up for some of the overworked jokes and the decision to present the magistrate (Erik Cornelius) as an outrageous parody of Groucho Marx.

It is a flawed play that panders a little too much to titillation, but at least it’s got guts.

And I might add that in comparison to plays that make it big on Broadway this is the equivalent of a first out-of-town trial. Major writers and producers will try their plays out in Jersey and Seattle and other places for months or even years, constantly making changes before finally opening in New York. Seen in that light, this is a fabulous play.

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