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Theater Review : 'Lysistrata': Bawdy Battle of the Sexes

October 22, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ORANGE — Lysistrata was sort of the Germaine Greer of ancient Greece.

If you think that stretch is too great, you can have your eyes opened by Douglass Parker's very modern 1960s adaptation of Aristophanes' classic Greek comedy, brought even more up-to-date by director Thomas F. Bradac in his high-camp production at Chapman University's Waltmar Theatre.

To make the brief plot even briefer for newcomers, Lysistrata decides that she and her Athenian sisters, along with the women of enemy Sparta, could solve all their problems by ending the Second Peloponnesian War simply by refusing to have sex with their husbands and lovers until a treaty is signed.

Of course, Aristophanes brings contemporary political satire into his raucous comedy, but the ladies' refusal of the increasingly randy advances of the men is the whole point of the piece. The play, and this production, makes the most of all the various and deviant possibilities.

Bradac has staged a show that some might consider rather indifferent Aristophanes, but it certainly is top-notch Grecian farce. Bradac's free-for-all not only speaks its anti-war subtext, but it shouts feminism in today's argot.

The male chorus counts off its poetry in military cadence; the women render theirs as team cheers. The Spartans are "Hee-Haw" country types, and the Athenians, under their togas, wear high heels and combat boots. Phallic symbols (and some not so symbolic) are the secret weapons of the warriors who can't go on fighting without some loving, and the secret weapons the women use to calm their ardor are body-size condoms, from which the men shrink in terror.

*

It's never been a play, and is less so here, that requires deep characterization. The comic ability is tested, and even actors without much flair are so caught up in the fun their gaiety becomes infectious.

Elizabeth Maher is a strong Lysistrata, attractive but able to let herself forget the fact to get a laugh. The snooty facade of Anne Marie Nest is just right for Lysistrata's friend Kleonike. Deborah Wissink's slinky and bimbo-like Myrrhine is delicious, never more so than in the scene where Myrrhine's husband, Kinesias (Randy Anderson), thinks he going to be in luck but finds out too late that he's not. Wissink and Anderson give authentic burlesque tone and energy to a difficult scene.

April Davis scores as the leader of the female chorus, with a deadpan cool that works well, and Christian Denton is very good as the frazzled Commissioner who tries to outdo the women and fails.

The richest comedy is in the hands of Scott Bramble as the leader of the men's chorus. Bramble's intuitive timing and sense of reality in the face of absurdity is refreshing and always hilarious.

* "Lysistrata," Waltmar Theatre, Chapman University, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m. Ends Oct. 30. $7. (714) 997-6812. Running time: 1 hours, 40 minutes. Elizabeth Maher: Lysistrata

Anne Marie Nest: Kleonike

Deborah Wissink: Myrrhine

April Davis: Koryphaios of Women

Scott Bramble: Koryphaios of Men

Randy Anderson: Kinesias

Christian Denton: Commissioner

A Chapman University Department of Communication Arts production of Aristophanes' comedy. Directed by Thomas F. Bradac. Scenic design: Craig Brown. Lighting design: David Darwin. Costume design: Cathy Crane-McCoy. Choreography/stage manager: Christopher Zinovitch.

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