A war that will never end, a political climate fraught with change, the seat of authority under siege from the inside out. No, we're not talking about the current state of affairs in America (although we could be, couldn't we?) but Ancient Greece and Aristophanes' Lysistrata, now plying at the Gallery Players in Brooklyn. Now more than ever seems like the best time for what is being billed as "A Piece for Peace", and it's hard not to talk politics when talking Lysistrata (so forgive me my political digressions).
Alexa Polmer’s direction of the timeless anti-war piece, Lysistrata, and this is the trouble with all Greek Comedy, is far from subtle and at times drops the bar from professional theatre to that of amateurish community theatre. What she does offer up to the table are well crafted characters, updated for our more modern sensibilities. And such is the double edged sword of Greek Comedy. We as an audience relate more to woman’s chorus in this production, more so than if the production had been done in a classical sense. Instead of tunics Polmer and her costume designer (Crystal Fergusson) have give us T-shirt dresses, bathrobes and sweats. Ms. Polmer also lays down the grounds for political revolution with the opening a rousing chant of “I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair. in 17769 revolution was in the air.” The chorus has literally become the chorus to our Lysistrata, backing her the way a superstar today would be.
When producing Greek Comedy nothing is sacred, and in this case neither is the text. Translator Drue Robinson has taken Aristophanes’ text and updated it, infusing modern turns of phrase (we’ll cause such a ruckus, that they’ll simply want to ****us!), alongside the original figures of speech. It makes it quite hard to tell which of these catch phrases have come from the original playwright and which have come from his modern day counterpart. This translation, subtitle “A Woman’s Translation”, has brought the women to life in a new way, and Ms. Robinson has made a play that was written more than 2000 years ago seem fresh and almost urban.
It’s the casting of the female chorus, though, that cements this production (sadly the same cannot be said about the males chorus, who are more often than not banal and bland). There is comic genius in the performances of Melissa D’Amico (Calonice) and Shannon Noecker (Myrhine). These woman offer bawdy sexual comedy as well as subtle innuendo without so much as breaking a sweat. In the way that Ms Noecker suduces her husband into promising a peace treaty with Sparta and her immediate joyful pulling away when the promise is altered, that makes the men in the audience shiver and and shift around in their seats. And Ms. D’Amico’s sex kitten of a Calonice is volumtous and tempting enough for the audience to call for peace.
One casting choice that was on par with the political statement of the show and our culture was that of Megan Prahl, as Lysistrata. She is both female and black, a reflection of the revolutionary changes our society is on the brink of. But her performance lacks the brightness to be the title character. She is tuned in and wonderful, she is tuned off and the message is missed. It was an unsure, questioning portrayal of the strongest of the female camp, and was a let down.
The only male stand out, who became less than outstanding as the Spartan Herald, was Victor Bell. His awkward, turtle like, male chorus member, who is so infectiously obsessed with his blue nether regions, was a comic gem. It was doused with subtly and thought, making it ultimately more satisfying than his other cohorts (there again the men of Lysistrata are the backdrop on which the women play).
Also the beauty of doing a play like Lysistrata is that you are allowed to be as offensive as you wish to be. When you go to see the play you expect to see giant phalli and prosthetic breasts jangling about. What you get at Gallery Players is a more verbose man’s idea of sex. there are no absurdly over sized body parts in this production, there are though a few odd looking ones, that come up towards the end. It was as if the production was aiming for a more classy look, only pulling out the sex store antics in the last half.
Although with their piece for peace, The Gallery Players, have not broken down any theatre walls by reinventing great works (which is there trademark) but they have produced a night of fun sexual innuendo (sometimes blatant). It’s a night of fun and frivolity, and in reality isn’t that was Lysistrata is all about, that and a nice political message of peace between all people.