The Rude Mechanicals make a lot of bold choices in their adaptation of the classic Lysistrata. They have chosen to set Aristophanes’s sex-laden comedy in 1969, a time rife with anti-war sentiments, sexual exploration, and rebellion against authority. They have chosen to mostly maintain the antiquated syntax of the text, including lines said in unison, rhyming couplets, and dated jokes. And they have chosen to put three full-grown men in head-to-toe penis costumes.
From the beginning, this company had their work cut out for them. Challenge #1: the original story of Lysistrata is entirely uninteresting. A plucky young woman decides she and her friends are going to abstain from sex with their husbands in order to force them to stop the war. They don’t have sex, the men fall to pieces, and lo and behold, the war stops. And then the story ends. There is no clever twist, no climax, and certainly no character development.
Add to this one-note narrative Challenge #2: director Jaki Demarest’s overarching concept—the rebellious 1960s. In theory, this classic tale shares many common themes with the bubbling turmoil of 1960s America. Lysistrata (Lisa Hill-Corely) refuses to stay silent as her world is ravaged by violence and mismanagement, very much like the activists of the 60s. Unfortunately however, this relationship is often lost in the shuffle of plot development and penis jokes. If it weren’t for the peace necklace Lysistrata wears, the most interesting aspect of the whole production would be largely forgotten.
Compounding this haphazardly integrated thematic concept is Challenge #3: the rough production quality. Piped in karaoke tracks underscore the production and characters have trouble accurately timing their renditions of popular 60s songs. The costume design is inconsistent—beautifully executed garments like that worn by Mikki Barry (playing Rhodippe, a woman of Corinth) stand in contrast to some outfits that seem entirely out of place (see Lauren Beward’s faux-leather miniskirt).
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Starting with such a disadvantage, Lysistrata 1969 struggles to provide a coherent social commentary, but does manage to maintain the piece’s central sense of fun. The oath that a solemn Lysistrata makes her reluctant women swear is littered with drug references (“May all my weed turn to oregano”) and explicitly alludes to various sexual positions. The aforementioned life-size penises are designed in such a way that the audience can see the faces of the actors inside. Steve Calamia stands out as the Honorary “Member” of the Spartan Ambassador. His ingenious strained facial expressions perfectly demonstrate the grimaces one would imagine genitalia in distress might make.
Hill-Corely excels at finding the humor in her role and shines in her small moments of wit. However, she cannot quite find the commanding charismatic energy of Lysistrata—someone who had enough charm to convince an entire gender to ignore their basic carnal urges. The cast is rounded out with a gaggle of sex-obsessed women and a few oaf-like men. Sidney Davis, as Micon, almost single-handedly doles out the comedy in group scenes with vastly expressive gestures and a compelling personality.
Overall, Lysistrata 1969 leaves much to be desired. The production strains against intrinsic challenges and there are many things to blame. Blame the Fringe-level production value. Blame the half-baked social message. But most of all, blame Aristophanes.