Review: KU production proves 'Lysistrata' timeless

In 410 B.C., the Greek dramatist Aristophanes wrote the comic masterpiece "Lysistrata," combining pacifism, feminism and sex. Twenty-four centuries later, academic theater continues to find the combination irresistible, and director Laura Leffler-McCabe's lively University Theatre production shows that this ancient but timeless play still has legs.

The plot is simplicity itself: the Athenian women, tired of continual war, occupy the Acropolis (with its treasury) and vow to withhold sex until their husbands negotiate peace with Sparta. The current production substitutes contemporary nationalities for Athens and Sparta, but remains faithful to the original, showing reluctance among the women as well as frustration among the men once the plan is set in place. But led by the intellectual Lysistrata, thoughtfully and convincingly played by Erin Burns, the women slowly agree.

Past Event

Lysistrata by Aristophanes

  • Sunday, October 24, 2004, 2:30 p.m.
  • Murphy Hall, 1530 Naismith Drive, Lawrence
  • All ages

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Her first convert is Lampito, in Aristophanes' script a Spartan (to Athenians, a redneck) woman who likes sex as well as the next woman, but decides that "peace must come first." Katherine McRobbie plays her strongly as an American blonde, costumed as a dominatrix with American-flag bodice. Leslie Long plays a hilarious Myrrhine, the group's high-strung girly girl in feather boa. Myrrhine overcomes her own libido (with difficulty) to frustrate her husband into submission in one of the play's funniest scenes near the close. Caitlin McDonald is creditable as Calonike, the fourth of the pact-swearers.

The five women of the Chorus, representing various nationalities, portray the Acropolis-occupiers who aid the other four. All turn in entertaining performances as they loll about the "Acropolis," taunting and teasing the men below from their balcony. The scene-stealer here is Ashley Lafond as Asha, notable among other things for fighting dirty in a scene where "The Commish," the men's leader, is bound and tormented by the women.

Scott Johnson as The Commish -- not Aristophanes' designation -- handles a tricky role with apparent ease, managing to convey simultaneously both the dignity and command of his position and the ironic distance from which the playwright saw him, rendering him most foolish when he asserts himself most powerfully. Darren Maloney is Myrrhine's husband and victim Kinesias, and comically represents his character's agonies of lust. Justin Knudsen as the Ambassador and Jordy Altman as the Envoy (and submissive partner of Lampito) play their roles with zest.

The male chorus members, like their female counterparts, add greatly to the frequent dance scenes as well as to the generalized conflict and confusion that project the heart of the plot. They are led by Eric Avery, who is responsible for the show's splendid and extensive choreography. He is himself a superbly talented dancer. Watch for him.

Near the play's end, the audience is subjected to a lengthy interpolated lecture against America for "globalization" and other sins. The speech, given incongruously to Lysistrata, explains that the American people are good; it's just their government that is evil, oppressive, etc. Curiously, this has the unintended effect of diluting rather than fortifying the play's anti-war message.

The set by Anna Wieczorek is simple, colorful and effective, with a round pavilion on two levels representing the Acropolis, balanced by a giant (10 feet tall) distaff wound with wool and topped by a sphere which makes the whole look remarkably like a chess pawn, representing the women's traditional place. Robert Sturner's lighting design and Jeremy Gibson's sound continually transform the stage as the actions shift from war to negotiation to love. Delores Ringer and Jennifer Stimple's costumes for both sexes, based on colorful tunics, are radically and comically altered to suit each character. And it wouldn't be "Lysistrata" without the phalluses that sprout from the men as the action continues, tastefully rendered here in red satin.

Today's matinee is sold out, but tickets remain for performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday at the Inge Theatre in Murphy Hall. For tickets, call 864-3982.

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