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Peace Campaign Finds an Old Ally

USC students, celebs participate in global stagings of ancient Greek pacifist comedy.

March 04, 2003|Don Shirley | Times Staff Writer

Midway through an alfresco reading of "Lysistrata," the classic Greek antiwar comedy, at USC on Monday afternoon, the strains of a USC fight song suddenly blared from the direction of the nearby music school.

The actors -- mostly graduate students from the classics department -- raised their voices a little louder. After a few seconds, the fight song abruptly stopped -- a symbolic victory, perhaps, for the forces of peace.

The performance was part of the Lysistrata Project, an international campaign to protest the potential war in Iraq. More than 1,000 readings of Aristophanes' comedy -- or adaptations of it -- were scheduled to take place Monday in all 50 states and 58 other countries, raising money for a variety of peace groups and human rights organizations. More than 25 readings were scheduled for Southern California.

In the plot of "Lysistrata," the Greek women, led by the title character, refuse to have sex with their husbands until the Greek men stop the Peloponnesian War.

More than 25 readings were scheduled for Southern California, ranging from a star-studded event in Venice to an invitation-only reading in a San Bernardino home.

About 250 people gathered at L.A. Filmmakers Co-Op to watch AlfreWoodard play the title role, supported by Julie Christie, Christine Lahti, Mary McDonnnell, Eric Stoltz, Roscoe Lee Browne and other celebrities.

The scene was reminiscent of a movie opening or an exclusive club. Only about 100 could cram into the small brick building, while the rest of the crowd watched a televised simulcast on the adjacent patio.

But those on the patio got the best seats for some unorthodox entertainment before the show. The Radical Teen Cheers squad from Franklin High School in Highland Park led a rousing series of gymnastics chants.

A sample lyric: "S, don't buy / S-U, don't fight / S-U-Vs, waste gas / No war for oil!"

The reading at USC was more grass-roots than high concept.

Anyone who strolled by Founders Park could stop and watch. The set consisted of a sketchy drawing of the Acropolis attached to cardboard boxes.

A card table was set up for donations to the Revolutionary Organization of the Women of Afghanistan, but no one passed a hat. Many of the approximately 60 spectators did not contribute.

The men in the cast wore colorful, phallus-shaped balloons. Performers of both sexes were otherwise dressed in conservative black tones -- the better to emphasize the balloons, said organizer Chiara Sulprizio .

A 26-year-old classics doctoral student from Carson City, Nev., Sulprizio said the comic ribaldry of the play was important to show that "you don't have to get angry to say something important."

She hopes the performance might also lighten the starchy image of classics scholars. The play shows that "the ancient world was not filled only with stodgy old men."

For some students, the event provided a variation in the menu of the antiwar movement. "It's not another march," said Phillip Horky, 25, of Grand Blanc, Mich., who participated in the reading.

The actress in the title role, Kristina Meinking, 21, of Long Island, said the most important goal of the event was "to get the message out that there are other ways to solve problems besides violence."

Several students in the audience, who said they were activists in other antiwar activities on campus, jokingly took the message of the play a little more literally.

"We should withhold sex!" said Neetu Mahil, a junior, after watching the performance.

Added Heather McLean, a senior, "I wasn't having sex before, but if I was, I'd withhold it."

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