Many know the story of “Lysistrata;” few have seen a production. It's a fun-loving delight.
Many know the story of “Lysistrata;” few have seen a production. You know the story because the audacity of Aristophanes' comic tale is unforgettable: The women of Athens and Sparta conspire to end the Peloponnesian War by refusing to have sex with their men.
To see it played out on stage in 90 minutes with no intermission is a fun-loving delight. The revived Drama Group of Germantown under Steve Travers and Taylor Rouillard focuses on the classics of western drama. Their production of “Lysistrata” gives us much frolicsome enthusiasm for what it lacks in stagecraft assets.
The original “Lysistrata” is a difficult staging. It presents a horde of characters and, to the uninitiated, the stylized format of Greek comedy feels stilted. The Drama Group production aspires to be accessible.
Director Taylor Rouillard uses a modern translation by Ian Johnston that scratches minor characters. The stately procession of the Chorus to foreshadow and comment --- Parados, Parabasis, Exodos --- is eliminated. What the larger community thinks is now reflected by character dialogue and action, much as in our theater.
This is Lysistrata's play and Britt Fauzer shines in the star role. Her Lysistrata keeps emotional contact with everyone in such a self-sufficient way she seems incapable of false feelings. Her aura is priestess-like, human enough to share in the knowledge of human foible, goddess enough to stay beyond its thrall.
Lysistrata has no history of erotic relations with husbands or lovers. Through Fauze, we see a woman of physical allure who makes no effort to be seductive. Lysistrata rejoices in her commanding presence alone, with the goal of ending the Peloponnesian War by bringing the weight of a woman's wit and sensibility to bear.
She is a master diplomat, always able to make her case within a mantel of empathy. When the women, one by one, try to worm out of their oath to take the Acropolis and deny their men sex, Lysistrata talks them back into the fold with warm argument, even as she acknowledges the legitimacy of their yearnings.
Producer Steve Travers doubles up to play the Athenian Magistrate who needs access to the Acropolis treasury to fight Sparta. Supremely confident of male prerogative, he is Lysistrata's chief antagonist. Travers combines a hail-fellow-well-met air with the pratfalls of a bungling bully.
In the "Agon" scene, Lysistrata eloquently demands an end to war, while the Magistrate's counterarguments grow giggly. The feckless warriors of Greece are everywhere overmatched. The Magistrate commandeers his men to retake the Acropolis, but they reel in terror from stalwart women.
As the sex ban takes hold, the men become pitifully supplicant. When Cinesias (Geremy Webne-Behrman) tries to rendezvous with his wife, Myrrhine ( Francine Odri) leads him on and then retreats into the Acropolis, leaving Cinesias high and dry in ludicrous want.
Costumes by Emily Parker give all the women characters singular attire to enhance the sense of forceful individuality. In contrast, the men gambol about in drab garb that lacks color and personality, nondescript like the men themselves.
Director Rouillard uses the auditorium balcony to stage the Acropolis as an airy, unapproachable place. She has the men wear pads in their trousers to underscore erotic unrest. These are playful, raucous touches, (but mild in comparison to Ancient productions where men wore penal garments and Lysistrata's Peace handmaid appears fully nude to broker a treaty before wanting men.)
Rouillard's choreography is careful. The women are often up on stage, or still higher on the balcony. The men are lower down, mulling around on the auditorium floor beneath the proscenium. (On occasion, they kibitz with an audience member; the unreachable women never do.)
“Lysistrata” resonates today. The vision of alienated women surging to seize power in the name of reason and justice fits in with the struggle for human rights. However, it is doubtful this viewpoint is central to the thinking of Aristophanes.
The Euripides quote sums up his Greek world: "There is no wild animal more shameless than a woman." Aristophanes' aim was to stop the Peloponnesian War and he used the idea of women seizing power to shock the public into reflection. Given the historical outcome, his comedy is equally shrouded in tragedy.
The Drama Group is at 6001 Germantown Ave., in the auditorium of First United Methodist Church of Germantown. “Lysistrata” will run through Nov. 19. For tickets, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or purchase at the door.