Around the world, theaters protest possible war in Iraq

— From the Brooklyn Academy of Music to a coffeehouse in northern New Mexico to the National Theatre of Iceland, actors are planning a day of international theater protest against a possible war with Iraq.

Today, in all 50 states and on six continents, participants will read "Lysistrata," Aristophanes' bawdy comedy of ancient Greece in which women withhold sex until men agree to outlaw war.

At last count, 919 readings were set in 56 countries, and the number was climbing, according to Kathryn Blume and Sharron Bower, two New York actresses who started the Lysistrata Project.

The project began with Blume, who had been working on a modern adaptation of "Lysistrata" as a screenplay. She had heard about a group called Theaters Against War that was urging theater companies to put an anti-war statement in their programs or make a curtain speech against war. Blume thought she would do a reading of "Lysistrata" as her contribution.

When Bower joined in, the project took off.

"We put up a Web site, e-mailed everyone we knew and they e-mailed everyone they knew," Blume said. "Soon we were getting e-mails from all over the country and all over the world."

Among those who responded were Michael Paulukonis, a volunteer at Artists for Art, a community-based, nonprofit arts organization in Scranton, Pa., and Stefan Baldursson, artistic director of the National Theatre of Iceland.

Paulukonis will direct more than a dozen community-theater actors in a reading in the organization's small storefront space.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music's reading at its Harvey Theatre will feature Mercedes Ruehl in the title role with a supporting cast that includes F. Murray Abraham, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Bill Irwin and Kathleen Chalfant.

There won't be anything quite as formal at the Paloma Blanca Coffeehouse in Questa, N.M., a farming and mining community of 1,700 people not far from the Colorado state line.

"There is no director," said Anne Constanza, who organized the event at the town's only coffeehouse. "Each reader will bring to the reading whatever they want, in terms of preparedness, props and costumes."

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