Written by Jessica Espinoza
It is difficult to imagine that plunger-wielding old women, well-endowed Athenian assemblymen, and a sex strike could all be contained within the same script. Difficult, that is, until one realizes the hilarious absurdity that is ancient Greek comedy.
Beginning this Wednesday, Southwestern University’s theatre department will be presenting a modernization of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata in the Jones Theater. Auditions were held the first week of classes and rehearsals have been in session since August 30. The cast numbers about twenty-five, which any director will tell you can be a challenge. Cast and crew have risen to this challenge, however, and produced a work which defies the dogmas of war and, surprisingly, of peace.
The idea for this production first arose at the end of the 2008 spring semester. “It was a really well-timed choice,” director Jared J. Stein said, “We were looking for a translation, and it just so happens that Carnegie-Mellon had done a modernization of Lysistrata.”
This particular version of the play was adapted by dramaturgical professors Jed A. Ball and Michael Chamers. The plot centers around the ingenious ploy of women from all over Greece, led by staunch activist Lysistrata (played by Claire McAdams), to end the Spartan-Athenian war by withholding sexual favors from their husbands. Havoc ensues when a group of men, led by the fiery Archon (played by Zac Carr) and the aging drill sergeant Phlacidos (played by Evan Faram) decide to storm the Acropolis where the women have concealed themselves. How can this chaos hope to be solved? Some would say through rational discourse, others through violence, and still others, the play asserts, believe the only way to stop war is simply to lay down arms and stop. “When the play was written,” Stein said, “it proposed an absolutely, unbelievably absurd solution for an absolutely, unbelievably absurd human problem. Aristophanes is not only attacking war, but every known solution for war.”
It goes without saying that preparing for a production of this magnitude requires tremendous determination and copious amounts of work on the part of cast and crew. While observing the first technical rehearsal from a seat at the top of the theater, it became abundantly apparent just how much time and energy goes into the sets, costumes, and performances which spectators tend to take for granted. The lighting must be
absolutely correct in order to set the tone of the entire piece before a word is spoken. Each intricate part of the set must serve its purpose, and all of the combined pieces serve to create a world in which the audience can believe and the actors can freely practice their craft.
“I’ve seen parts of the set be built,” sound technician Renn Little said, “and just watching it come together is amazing.”
Naturally, a play of any sort could not exist without capable actors. In a cast of twenty-five, every role takes on a highly specialized importance, and collaboration becomes essential to keep the script afloat.
“The biggest challenge,” Sam Allen, who portrays a Scythian archer, said, “is maintaining the intensity and the overall craziness of the play throughout the entire performance, from the first line to the final bow.” It is worthwhile to note that neither cast nor directorial crew has been averse to these stumbling-blocks, but treats them with a practical optimism. It is all in a day’s work.
“Everyone’s put in so much effort,” Little said, “This takes a lot of dedication.”
Many have wondered if a comedy of ancient Greece can be even remotely accessible to audiences today. Stein argues that, in many ways, it is more accessible now than it would have been in Aristophanes’ era. “It was even more ridiculous to have women carry out this plan,” Stein said, “it becomes a little bit more believable in 2008.” The play also allows, says Stein, for the audience to view Lysistrata as a political figure, rather than solely a subverter of gender roles. With war still omnipresent in American society, a play like this one can hardly fail to strike a chord. “The themes and issues discussed in Lysistrata are still remarkably relevant and accessible in contemporary culture,” Allen said, “to this day we are still discussing the roles of men versus women and the madness that is war.”
This production will run from October 1 through October 5, and tickets are available at the box office. These tickets are free for SU students, and all are encouraged to attend.