LYSISTRATA: ANCIENT GREEK DRAMA ABOUT A GROIN SENSE OF PACIFICISM STILL HITS HOMEBy Greggory Moore
Let’s be honest: ancient Greek theatre is primitive. How could it not be? It’s just about when the whole art form was born. Based on that historical truth, you are welcome to slant your judgment of the aesthetics of a play like Lysistrata, but you are not obliged to. And if you don’t, the first thing you’re likely to say about it is something like: “Let’s be honest: ancient Greek theatre is primitive.”
Brandon Cutts, who has adapted and directed the Aristophanes classic for Long Beach Shakespeare Co., has modernized the text somewhat, giving we modern and (at least potentially) more-sophisticated theatergoers a better chance to enjoy the play; that was a good idea, particularly as concerns the humor. However, I think he might have done better to have gone all the way, because at times there’s almost no way to watch this production and not think: “Let’s be honest: ancient Greek theatre is primitive.”
That said (three times now, if you’ve lost count), you gotta hand it to Aristophanes: in c. 410 BCE he crafted perhaps the first feminist statement. And it’s a strong one. “You thought it was a herd of slaves you had to tackle,” Lysistrata chastises men as she implements her plan to stop war by having the women withhold sex from the men until the latter agree to cease their warmongering.
Is this a simpleminded dramatic conceit? Of course it is. But that doesn’t stop Aristophanes from making some excellent observations, such as suggesting rather explicitly that were men less in love with the idea that “war is man’s sole affair” [i.e., only men's business] and more inclusive of women in their decision-making, there would be less war. Which, you know, would be a good deal. “It shouldn’t prejudice my voice that I am not a man,” Lysistrata says. To think that this remains a valid complaint over two millennia later is a testament to just how progressive this play was.
L.B. Shakespeare’s production is, by turns, very funny and rather stilted. Taryn Jenna’s airhead take on Kleonike, for example, makes for some big laughs, but the plethora of phallic humor is good mostly for groans (not of pleasure), as if Cheech & Chong were around 2,000 years ago and focused on a different kind of joint.
The inside/obscure references also work for better and worse. Having modernized the text somewhat while leaving a good chunk of Aristophanes’s words untouched means that a whole lot of the ancient Greek stuff here is even less meaningful than it would have been to us otherwise— and I’m afraid at times it doesn’t seem very meaningful to the actors. Meanwhile, Cutts’s choice to bookend the play with bits of The Who’s “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” is quietly effective.
You could do worse than to live by the 1960s slogan “Make love, not war,” and if you want to see perhaps its first incarnation, you could certainly do worse than L.B. Shakespeare’s Lysistrata.
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