Plan 9 from ancient Athens

The Ecclesiazusae: Women in Parliament

By Aristophanes
Directed by Martha Elliot and Dawn Williams
The Looking Glass Theatre
422 W. 57th St. (307-9467)
Non-union production (closes December 21)
Review by Sarah Stevenson

The Ecclesiazusae: Women in Parliament is, to put it mildly, a challenge. Although it offers a great cross-dressed heroine, it also offers a lot of tedious talk about politics. And ancient Greek politics is not the most scintillating of topics.

The plot revolves around a group of women who believe that men have let the country down by their shoddy government strategies. In order to rectify this, they meet in the dark of night, don big black beards, and rehearse manly speeches, plotting to pass as men the next day in Parliament to institute a few small changes.

The five women who comprise the chorus (Amy Ferrante, Raquel Lehrman, Heather Moss, Michele Naumann, and Francine Vlante) are, unfortunately, less than successful at their intended male impersonation. Exasperated, the ringleader, Praxagora (Kirsten Mitchell) takes over. When Praxagora delivered her speech on the virtues of women, explaining eloquently why they are more fit to govern, it was fully credible that the men accept her logic.

Mitchell was an astonishingly good speaker, and Aristophanes gave her some great rhetoric. Mitchell was definitely the star of this production, and truly outshone the otherwise somewhat bland cast. The other women performers were far less polished in their individual roles, although they worked together quite well as a chorus. They spoke clearly and precisely as a unit, and had a lot of fun with Aristophanes's choral speeches, translated by someone (although no translator is credited in the program) into truly wonderful Dr. Seuss-like rhymed couplets. It was this chorus that showcased the cleverness of this otherwise talky play.

The male characters, on the other hand (including David Lavine, Michael Bertrando, David Purves, and Pete Vanderburgh) were not scripted as a chorus, so each man had to stand on his own. The results were mixed, as they seemed directed to play comic caricatures, which felt somewhat flat. Only Jonathan Mirin, as a frustrated young suitor forced to have sex with old hags before being allowed to claim his young love (Naumann), gave a certain force to his character, perhaps due to a rich and nuanced speaking voice. A truly peculiar production number between the two lovers ensued, however, and seemed a bit out of place.

Even more peculiar, less logically explained, but far more entertaining was the frame that directors Elliot and Williams used to surround the Aristophanes text. A small flying saucer was suspended from the ceiling (think Plan 9 From Outer Space) throughout the play. As the lights came up, an old-fashioned radio announcer proclaimed extraterrestrial invasion (think War of the Worlds) accompanied by wonderful sci-fi inspired music by Martin Fluger.

Returning to the sci-fi theme at the end of the play, Praxagora was transformed into an avenging supergirl of sorts, firing a laser from the balcony and dressed in sleek black tipped with silver (a nice change from the cheesy "period" costumes designer Dvora I. Geller created for the body of the play).

This futuristic montage was definitely intriguing, but it didn't exactly relate to the play it was framing. It seemed, in fact, a refugee from a completely different play (and a better one, at that). But it was a fun ending, and whoever said everything has to make sense? Nonsense can be refreshing.

Box Score:
Script: 1
Acting: 1
Directing: 1
Set: 1
Lights: 1
Costumes: 1

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Copyright 1997 Sarah Stevenson