Press for Lysistrata

Showbiz Radio

by Bob Ashby

In the 1960s, a group called Women Strike for Peace (WSP) played an important role in the anti-nuclear weapons and anti-Vietnam War movements, as well as holding up the House Un-American Activities Committee to well-deserved ridicule. The ladies of WSP never carried out a strike for peace quite as stunning, let alone as funny, as the women of Athens in Aristophanes' Lysistrata, who deny sexual favors to their men until the latter negotiate a peace treaty to conclude a war between Athens and Sparta.

The Rude Mechanicals theater company plays up the 1960s resonance of Lysistrata, filling the production with topical references to the culture and music of young people of the era. Director Jaki Demarest succeeds in drawing parallels between the worlds of 1969 America and 4th Century BCE Greece without falling into the trap of creating a hippie nostalgia piece on the order of Hair.

Lysistrata is, of course, a sex comedy, and the bawdy references fly thick and fast, never more so than in an extended sequence in the second act in which Peter Ovetti and Steve Calamia play the "honorary members" of the Athenian and Spartan leaders, a nice bit of physical comedy that would be interesting to see described on the next iteration of their resumes. The rapid-fire pace of show's improvisational physical and verbal business never flags, and the cast deserved the frequent and raucous laughter it received from the opening night audience.

Lisa Hill-Corley portrays the title character as a formidably intelligent, persuasive and politically savvy leader who is determined to use the means women have at their disposal to end an interminable war. Like her zaftig but sexy co-conspirators Calonice (Erin Michelle Jones) and Myrrhine (Lauren Beward), Hill-Corley's handling of the play's language is flawlessly clear. As Stratyllis, Erica Smith lends a strong physical presence as she leads the women in completely dominating the play's men.

In this production, the men exist primarily to be intimidated. That such a timid, sniveling, easily-cowed bunch would be attractive to sexually confident women, let alone be capable of pursuing a protracted war, would fatally strain credulity in a piece that was any less a farce. Even the putative leader of the men, the Athenian Magistrate (Paul Davis), is thoroughly in the thrall of a combination of the women and his "honorary member." For some reason, the two Spartans in the show, Rebecca Hranj as Lampito and Gary Wynn as her husband, speak in what sound like Eastern European accents.

The costuming mostly goes for generic white Greco-Roman, with the occasional 60s touch (e.g., a Nixon button on one of the men's headband). Stratyllis, in a sort Barbarella get-up, and Myrrhine, in a tight, cleavage-focused red dress, are exceptions to the pattern, seeming neither Greek nor 60s. There is gratifyingly little in the way of tie-dyeing in the costume design. As befits the limited Greenbelt Arts Center performance space, the set is small and simple, with colors, beads and peace symbol decor to help establish the 60s theme. The lighting is efficient, with occasional bursts of multiple colors for a taste of 60s grooviness. There is even a bit of music in the production, when the cast sings period tunes (e.g., "All You Need is Love") to underline a point in the script.

As Demarest points out in her voluminous program notes, there is a natural affinity between the Athens of Aristophanes' day and America in the Vietnam era. This is not a brand-new thought. During the actual 1960s, the great lyricist Yip Harburg put together The Happiest Girl in the World, his take on the Lysistrata plot, with music adapted from Jacques Offenbach. Full of delightful tunes and Harburg's typically clever words, the unfortunately rarely performed show takes an effectively humorous approach to sex, albeit one more coy than that of the Rude Mechanical's current production. For anyone in the local theater community who sees and enjoys this Lysistrata, Happiest Girl is a show to consider for future seasons.

DC Metro Theater Arts

by Amanda Gunther

The premise is simple: the women are sick of the men never being at home because they are constantly at war. The women also want a say in how the government money is run so that the men will stop spending it all on the war. So the women, lead by Lysistrata, go on strike; but not just any kind of strike &emdash; a sex strike, refusing to provide sex from their husbands and lovers until the men agree to end the war. Chaos and hilarity ensue in this far-out production that you won't soon forget.

Director Jaki Demarest transforms the play space into a mellow hangout for the Greek ladies to lay back with their love. Glittery peace symbols adorn the front of each step that leads up to the Acropolis and bright pink and orange columns covered in hearts, butterflies, and peace signs flank either side of the set. Demarest gives us neon green shag carpet and big plush pillows to complete the love palace, letting the set exude an air of groovy relaxation.

Demarest makes a hybrid fusion of Greek and Hippy for the costumes worn by the various women. Long flowing sensual tunics accented by peace necklaces, flowers woven into their hair, and rose colored glasses make for a unique combination that screams how the Gods love the 60's.

Often times when adapting a classic it is easy to get caught up in the striking features that define the adaptation; but this is not a problem for Demarest. Leaving the original text spoken in the ancient Greek dialect she finds clever little ways to highlight the 1960's. There poignant moments selected where an appropriately related song of the era is thrown in and sung by the women, including such hits as "All You Need is Love," "Stoned Soul Picnic," and "Give Peace A Chance." This last number is sung as the women march on their principle to "occupy the Acropolis" waving rainbow flags and bright signs that say things like "Hell No! We Won't Go!" It's an impressive interpretation of the barricade scene and still maintains the essence of the message while reflecting the time period's importance.

Lysistrata (Lisa Hill-Corley) is a commanding force to be reckoned with as she leads this charge against the men, unifying the women despite their lusty and willful desires. Corley is level headed and grounded in her speeches, pacing them evenly but with feeling, and conviction. When she leads the women to speak as one &emdash; in unison their voices become the fearsome battle crow of girl power, echoing the sexual politics that drive their movement.

While Corley is the grounded voice of forceful reason, Stratyllis (Erica Smith) is purely force. Smith imbues her character with a dominatrix essence, from her kinky but frightening black leather platform boots with flames that lick up the sides, to her wicked sharp tongue as she debases the men every chance she gets, to her sheer brute strength, this girl is no flower. Smith is captivating and powerful making Rosie the Riveter look like a simpering Juliet.

With the forces covered that only leads lust. Spear-heading this sensual campaign on behalf of the females are Myrrhine (Lauren Beward) and Calonice (Erin Michelle Jones). Both Jones and Beward dote about the stage completely obsessed with sex; their voices slow and lusty, every flounce of their bodies an expression of the burning carnal desire. Beward gets her tease on when tempting her husband Cinesias (Joshua Engel) with all of the wonders he simply cannot have until the men put an end to the war. Both of these women make fine seductresses, and further enhance the cause of peace for all and good will in the pants of men.

And while this show is dominated by the women without the men there wouldn't be cause to show off all of that femme fatal spirit. Engel, with possibly the worst case of pent-up frustration and blue balls ever recorded in history, lays back into his character's pitiful bemoaning with ease. He truly expounds upon the tragedy of sex being withheld by his wife with a great sorrow. The Magistrate (Paul Davis) is no exception to this embarrassing plight. One moment a tall proud man of Athens, the next brought to his knees with unfulfilled desire.

Keep your eyes out for the Honorary Members (Peter Orvetti, and Steve Calamia) as they are a rousing part of this show. Both Orvetti and Calamia take on the hardest task of all; managing to stay straight up through even the most tempting of moments. They'll leave you in stitches as they point the way to all of man's troubles.

Lysistrata is a sexually charged comedy with peace-pipe smoking &emdash; the good 60's kind, and a great moral story about how women have all the power and should men forget it then find a cold shower.

The Greenbelt News Review

by Jim Link

Aristophanes' s Lysistrata is raucous, bawdy, anti-war, pro-sex - a noisy meditation on the follies of men and the cunning of women; the former rule (and die) on the battlefield; the latter rule (and thrive) in the bedroom. As fresh today as it was 2,400 years ago, Lysistrata's title character persuades the Athenian women to capture the Acropolis to cut off funding for the Peloponnesian War and to go on a sexual strike until the Athenian men make peace with the Spartans. The Rude Mechanicals, whose aesthetic credo is "Modernize the classics. Be irreverent!" have perpetrated another hilarious success by bringing Lysistrata to the Greenbelt Arts Center.

They have set it in 1969, when an amateur theater group stages Lysistrata to protest the American involvement in the Vietnam war. The production is saturated with 60s anti-war and feminist songs, potsmoking, flower power - the heady optimism that inspired the Age of Aquarius - "perhaps the last time there was actually a sense that the actions of a few people could change the world," as Jaki Demarest writes in her generous, intelligent director's notes.

Slender, elegant Lisa Hill-Corley (Lysistrata) is fiercely persuasive as the leader of the (a)sexual revolution. By turns humorous, rational, subtle and threatening, she eventually convinces her Athenian Sisterhood the very talented Erin Michelle Jones, Lauren Beward, Mikki Barry, Katie Wanschura, Rebecca Hranj and Erica Smith - to swear an oath to neither sleep with nor grovel before their men. "I'll never point my slippers toward the ceiling, Nor like a lioness on all fours go kneeling."

They seal the deal by passing joints around and chanting "May my weed turn to oregano if I break my vow! while "Stoned Soul Picnic"plays in the background.

When the Sisterhood refuses to vacate the Acropolis the preening, arrogant men scornfully guffaw but are promptly laid low - the only time they are laid - by the newly organized union. As the women announce "It's ballkicking-for peace time,"the music piped in is "All we are saying is give peace a chance."

Eventually the men do give peace a chance, particularly after Lysistrata uses a homely metaphor of women's work at the spindle and distaff to explain what they are trying to achieve. Women unravel wool, remove the burrs, purify it of flaws and reweave it into something magical and useful - a harmonious polis. "We cause men to be born; you make them die,"adds one of the ladies - or warriors, rather.

Cleverly timed use of lyrics like Aretha Franklin's "You better think about what you're tryin' to do to me,"Edwin Starr's "War! What is it good for?"Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane's "Don't you want somebody to love?"and the Beatles' "All you need is love" enhance the deadly serious hijinks wonderfully.

All 10 men are effective but four in particular are quite courageous. Usually outsized codpieces are used to express the painful tumescence of the frustrated brotherhood but Jaki Demarest uses "anthropomorphic erections"- a tactful circumlocution if there ever was one - instead. Peter Orvetti is the "honorary member" of Cinesias (Joshua Engel), the tumescent Athenian Magistrate who makes peace with the equally tumescent Spartan Ambassador (Greg Wynn), whose "honorary member" is Steve Calamia. These four men had the opening night audience of 50 in stitches during the finale.

Lauren Beward and Erica Smith flaunt an entirely different kind of costume. As Myrrhine, wife of Cinesias, Beward sports a clingy red leather minisheath accessorized by strappy golden sandals - no wonder Cinesias aches to make peace.

The already tall Smith (Stratyllis) heightens herself with highheeled black knee-high boots decorated with red flames. With her silver lamé miniskirt, Smith is one very assured, very intimidating Amazon.

This raunchy frolic is an hour and 20 minutes including a 10-minute intermission. It is enormous fun coupled with wise political insight. Enjoy it on Fridays and Saturdays only at 8 p.m., on August 24, 25, 31 and September 1.