Lysistrata: A Risqu?e Romp Through Aristophanic Comedy

Prosthetic penises and sexy lingerie loom under the eerie lull of an ancient Greek Chorus. Brightly colored bras dangle tauntingly from antediluvian columns. Quips, curses and even fists are flung violently between the sexes. Given all of this surreal excitement, it is not surprising that the Palace Theater had a full house for all three performances of the Classics Department’s presentation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata this past weekend. In true classical tradition, this play was co-directed by Professor of the Classics Robert Garland and Senior Hanna Berleth. Aristophanes’ Lysistrata takes us back to the year 411 BCE, when Athens and Sparta were engaged in the 20-year-long Peloponnesian War. A broken nation, Athens was desperately looking for relief from its state of perpetual warfare. In this play, relief comes in the form of a strong, intelligent Athenian woman: Lysistrata. Lysistrata, played by sophomore Nzinga S. Job, plans to save all of Greece by organizing a massive sex strike by Athenian and Spartan wives. Lysistrata reasons that without sex, men will become so incapacitated and immobilized that they will be left with no other choice but to come to peace. She recruits a group of women from all over Greece to help her realize this goal: Calonice (first-year Emily Wolford), Myrrhine (junior Kelsey Karsten), Lampito (sophomore Danielle Nolan), a Boeotian (senior Kate Rufe) and a Corinthian (junior Katie Graf). Lysistrata asserts that “in women’s hands is the salvation of the whole of Greece.” She hopes to achieve this salvation via tools such as dresses, perfumes, rouge, shoes and little see-through numbers and eventually, she does. Garland is a seasoned veteran of theater, having trained at the Mountview Theater School in London after temporarily abandoning his Ph.D. He has directed a number of plays but believes Lysistrata to be the “stiffest” challenge of his career. Berleth, a theater rookie, approached this project with an enthusiastic vision. She said, “I had actually seen a hideous production of Lysistrata a few years ago in New York City. It was dark, pushy and scary. After seeing that, I was resolved to emphasize a kind of lightness and innocence in this production.” This production was a unique collaboration between classics students, thespians and professors. “Most people were fairly inexperienced when we began the semester,” Garland said. “But by now, they have all come huge distances and have achieved a tremendous stage presence.” “It was better that we had a cast of amateurs,” Berleth added, “because they brought an enthusiasm and a willingness to the production that we otherwise would not have had.” Senior Tozer Hammond, who plays an Athenian slave with comedic brilliance, said of the show, “It was a great opportunity for a lot of us who had not done theater at Colgate before to perform and get a sense of what acting in a Greek comedy requires.” “I did things I never thought I would have done,” senior Ruthie Kott, the Women’s Chorus Leader commented, “said things I may or may not have ever said and met people I probably would not have met otherwise.” Garland chose to use scholar Sarah Ruden’s sleek, fast-paced translation of Lysistrata in this production. However, this translation only indicates dialogue; directorial instructions were left entirely to the directors’ creative whims. The directors chose to set the play in the 1940s purely for aesthetic reasons. According to Berleth, “[Stage Manager] Vanessa Obourn and I were thinking, when was the last time that clothing was truly distinctive and purely feminine? We both thought of the 40s.” Similarly, the directors decide to have

the Spartans speak in thick French accents, because “in Aristophanes’ text, they speak in thick Doric accents, and a faux-French accent seemed the easiest to pull off,” Garland said. Inevitably, there are problems in transforming any ancient play into a modern production. “To start with,” Garland said, “Aristophanes was a lyric poet of the first rank, and I fear that little of that lyricism will come over. Secondly, Aristophanes peppers his plays with contemporary allusions to recent Athenian history. Though we realize that most of these will be unfamiliar to a modern audience, we chose to retain them precisely because they are precious reminders of the unfamiliarity of the drama that we are seeking to bring to life.” Berleth added, “We were wondering whether or not to change the ‘By Hercules,’ for example, to a modern reference, but we decided to keep those allusions because we wanted to convey to the audience a sense of how foreign the drama really was.”Similarly, the directors faced a problem with the Chorus. The Chorus is a vital part of the play’s construction, since they represent the heart of Athens. In this play, there are two Choruses: a Chorus of Old Men and another of Old Women. “It’s difficult,” stated Garland. “You are stuck with a Chorus on stage the whole time, and you have to do something to make them an attractive feature to the audience. We worked hard to make the Choruses come to life as dynamic individuals.” And they did. The Women’s Chorus, led by Kott, was a hilarious group of spunky, fur-wearing, walker-toting geriatric women. The Women’s Chorus included sophomores Ying Fang Cui (Luce), Gina Landon and Kelly McGowan. The Men’s Chorus, led by sophomore Jeff Baione, was a group of grumpy, bitter old men who gruffly scratched and fondled their enormous prosthetic penises. The Men’s Chorus included sophomore Jeff Baione, sophomore Daniel Jedell, senior Travis Rains and junior Dennis Wong. At the end of the play, Lysistrata prevails as the Spartan Ambassador (Professor W. Stull) and the Athenian Ambassadors (Professor Matthew Carter and Emory Creel), governed by their engorged phalli, come together to reach a peace agreement. Both sides greedily grasp at reconciliation (Kelly McGowan), which is represented as a seductive Marilyn Monroe. Once peace is achieved, the women passionately run to their husbands, and the play ends with a buoyant celebration. While some may have been offended by this risqu?e production, the actors and directors seemed to have nailed Aristophanic comedy. Garland said, “Everything we did in this production was not only acceptable but authentic to Aristophanic comedy.” Ultimately, the directors, cast and production team successfully achieved their goal: they created and performed a powerful tribute to the Greek master, Aristophanes.