Anyone familiar with ancient Greek theatre knows the tale of Lysistrata and how she ended the Peloponnesian War by convincing all the women in Greece to stop having sex. But until you’ve seen a production of Lysistrata, especially a production that hasn’t been cleaned up to fit a somewhat prudish modern audience, you haven’t truly experienced all that Aristophanes has to offer. Bad puns. Crude sex jokes. Broad slapstick. The occasional phallic symbol. The current incarnation of Lysistrata now playing at the Gallery Players in Park Slope, has all this and more. Despite the somewhat awkward poetry in playwright Drue Robinson Hagan’s translation, and some uneven directing, this production is full of laughs - some because the play is funny, others because you can’t believe some of the things they’re getting away with on stage.
Lysistrata (Meagan Prahl) is tired of war. After 20 years of Athens fighting Sparta, something has to change. Left behind by men who only come back when they’re feeling frisky, the women of Greece undertake a daring plan. They seize the Acropolis, which contains Athens’ treasury, and stop the money from flowing. When the men return demanding their money, they find out that’s only part of the plan. The women plan to withhold sex and money until Sparta and Athens declare an end to the war. Eventually, the men, driven by their very painfully obvious needs (this has to be seen to be believed) give in to the women’s demands, and peace reigns.
The cast has its share of good performers. Among them are Prahl, whose Lysistrata is a treat; Shannon Noecker as Myrrhine, not the sharpest knife in the drawer but always good for a laugh; Maya Parra, especially in her role as Lampito, one of the more streetwise women; and Gabriel Grant, who does a marvelous job as Cinesias, one of the most sexually frustrated men you’ll ever see on stage.
Production values are strong, especially Crystal Fergusson’s costumes and Jim King’s makeup and hair design. Neither point to a specific period, but seem to hint at classic Greece, the 1960s and modern times. Christina Watanabe’s lighting is well done, and Jason Thomas Spencer is to be commended for his sound design which has to accommodate a number of slapstick special effects. Also worth mentioning is Maggie MacDonald, who does an outstanding job with the fight choreography.
Director Alexa Polmer does a good job with the majority of the play, but during some of the most broadly performed sections of the play, those involving the chorus of grumpy old men and caustic old women, that things don’t always work. Where she uses broad physical comedy, she also needs skillful comic timing both in terms of directing and acting (think of something like the Benny Hill show). While the broad comedy is there, the comic timing is often lacking.
As a bit of a warning, there were some people in the audience who clearly prefer their sex jokes cushioned by innuendo rather than right in their faces. If you’re bothered by crude humor, this might not be the show for you. However, if your humor runs toward Farrelly Brothers movies and the American Pie series, Lysistrata might be right up your alley.
(Lysistrata also featured Melissa D’Amico, Meg Loftus, Loren Fenton, D. Zhonzinsky, Amanda Bruton, Jeff Bush, Victor Bell, and Joseph Raik).
Copyright 2008 by Byrne Harrison
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