Review by Ann Firestone Ungar
The Greek playwright Aristophanes was rad 2,426 years ago when he wrote the startling, serious sexual satire Lysistrata. Its story and characters stand today as a monument of anti-war literature of the highest value and quality, recently revived in New York City as the maiden voyage production of a theater company called Equal Truth Productions. I congratulate this engaging troupe of skilled actors and their director, Julie Lucas, and wish them well with their next production. Lysistrata closed as I type this review, and I regret that I could not see and praise it earlier in its short run.
Stay with me, gentle reader. You need to know what Lysistrata is about, and I have a bit of a surprise ending here for you, with your work assignment.
Lysistrata takes place in ancient Athens. Athens is at war with Sparta. The men from both cities have been absent from their homes for long periods of time, and domestic life has suffered tremendously, as it does in all wars. An Athenian woman named Lysistrata (Grace Merriman) comes up with an extraordinary idea to bring the parties to the peace table. This she offers to both the women of Athens and Sparta: when your men come home on leave, deny them sex. Deny them and deny them and promise that that situation will continue until they negotiate a settlement.
At first the women balk at this as impossible. They themselves want and need their conjugal relationships, but Lysistrata is persistent. Finally all swear an oath to follow her plan. They take over the Acropolis where the wealth of Athens is stored. Without gold, there can be no war. The men immediately react with reasoned arguments, then with belligerence as they try to smoke or burn the women out. They use all manner of persuasive techniques as they themselves battle with larger and larger painful (and painfully funny) erections. The women resist, making fun of a magistrate, seducing but denying a desperate husband, threatening fist fights and finally bringing the Athenian and Spartan men to the peace table. The men agree, “We cannot live with you; we cannot live without you.” They want “a peace with the whole of Greece.” The joke here is, as it falls on the audience’s ear, they want “a piece with the hole of Greece.”
The play ends with each warring side taking territory from the other. The people dance and sing together in thanksgiving to flute music, and at least for a while Lysistrata, “bravest of all women,” has performed a miracle. She hopes, “we don’t repeat our errors ever.”
Fun in service of reining in bloodshed: this is a worthy piece of drama. I wondered as I listened to the lucid and witty language (translation by Alan H. Sommerstein) and enjoyed the well-constructed plot if Shakespeare had access to a translation of this play. Time doesn’t permit me to research this, but it seems to me that Aristophanes, Shakespeare and Molière were cut from the same fine piece cloth.
A nod to theater’s sister art: the movies. Chi-Raq, a Spike Lee film currently on the screen, is based on Lysistrata. It expands the story from a sex strike by Chicago’s Southside women to bring their warring gang men to the peace table. The plot explores the demise of a man known as Chi-Raq, a tragic figure in this torn community. Chi-Raq is a polemic, a necessary and sympathetic plea for peaceful measures in Chicago and worldwide to quell the violence which is gutting civilization. It’s a film we need to see and it’s well made, though it could do with some editing for length considerations.
So Lysistrata’s in the air. It’s good to breathe it in thousands of years after its first performance. Thank you, Aristophanes.
LYSISTRATA – written by Aristophanes and directed by Julie Lucas
WITH: Marissa Carpio (Stratyllis/Lampito), Lida Darmian (Myrrhine), Adam Donovan (Spartan/Herald/Manes/Policeman), Toussaint JeanLouis (Cinesias/Chorus/Athenian), Liz Leimkuhler (Chorus/Ismenia), Grace Merriman (Lysistrata), Kisha Milling (Calonice), Michael Ring (Male Chorus Leader), Jorge Sanchez (Magistrate, Athenian), Thanos Skouteris (Chorus), Michelle Vo (Chorus/Corinthian Woman)
Audry Bodek (Designer), Rebecca Werner (Stage Manager), Rachel Bryan (Costumes & Props Assistant), Grace Merriman and Sarah Wells (Producers), Zach Terry (Photographer), presented by Equal Truth Productions. This production ran from December 17-20, 2015 at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre, 50 West 13th Street, New York, NY. Information: equaltruthproductions.com; email to [email protected]