by Philip Caunter
What could be more topical, in 2018, than a play about gender roles and climate change? Something that isn’t a play, maybe. Theatre, though there are young acolytes, is seen as a cultural product of old times. Even older, then, if your source material is some of the oldest Greek theatre that survives in writing. But this is the project of playwright David S. Craig: a veteran of the industry trying to bring relevance and life to a very old story.
The result is a bombastic journey, a nod to classical theatre with just enough earnestness to carry a heavy-handed but funny story of a believably dire climate and economic future. As satirical setting, the future described in this play is on-point in a funny and sometimes unsettling way. All of the notes about how our world might change and how we might come to accept it (“It’s the weather!”, they repeat resignedly) are spot on. There’s a nice socio-economic contrast drawn, too, between the rich and poor and how, even as we may want change, we still buy into the systems that made things how they are. Because that’s what we know.
This play is on-point in a funny and sometimes unsettling way.
In some moments, this play feels like it didn’t quite culturally reach the present day. Some of what’s shown in Lysistrata is what could have been considered a progressive take 30 years ago, with an insertion of an impression of what “progressive young people” sound like. Credit for making the effort to consider new viewpoints, but a few times it felt like youth were being made fun of—a tired dig on cat videos, a rant about the term ”pure” that was (gently) mocked, and a wishy-washy young man who is nothing but horny are all examples of parodying young people in a way that doesn’t jive with how connected, engaged, and important young people are when approaching issues like identity and climate change.
This isn’t to say that the play isn’t relevant—it really, really is. The world of commonly-accepted climate disaster and refugees-made-economic-slaves cuts hard, because those are real threats. Lysistrata just doesn’t always speak in the most contemporary tongue. In some moments, where the messages of the play are made obvious, a bit of the magic of theatre is lost, and we aren’t in the world the actors created anymore. We’re left looking at actors in costume, speaking messages at us.
That said, aside from those spell-breaking moments, there is a lot to enjoy in the character and humanity written into these characters and this story. Lysistrata (Shelley Simester) and her husband Cleon (Martin Julien) shine brightest, carrying the show emotionally with feistiness and tender depth in hand.
Clever turns by Catriona Leger and David Warburton as nameless slaves (H and G, respectively) provided other highlights, as well as Sarah Finn’s Cassandra, the conscience of the play done to nervy perfection. This play is at it’s best when it does the classic elements of theatre well. Credit to Craig and his superb cast for finding the humanity within all the oldest tropes in the book.
As a complement to my review of Lysistrata, I had the chance to enjoy the picnic dinner from Le Cordon Bleu’s Signatures restaurant—which was complimentary for this reviewer but costs $32 on the regular ($59 with an adult ticket)—and I spoke with restaurant manager Mercedes Gordon about how it came together.
“We’re within walking distance—you can practically see the stage from the porch [of Signatures],” she notes. This makes the pairing an easy one. When you buy your tickets for the show you have the option to add the meal, which you can then pick up from Signatures between 6–8pm (showtime) and enjoy at Strathcona for a full in-the-park experience.
This relationship serves a dual purpose, Gordon says. “It’s a combination of wanting to do something within the community and wanting to show the community as well that we’re here”—a fair notion, because although the Cordon Bleu school is well known, it’s less known that the out-of-the-way location also houses a full-service restaurant. “I think a lot of people have a the conception that we’re a teaching restaurant—we’re not.”
This being an adaptation of a Greek play, the picnic menu is Greek-inspired as well, complete with skewer-cooked chicken, a Greek salad, and a piece of baklava for dessert (a clear highlight of the meal). The dinner package also includes a piece of focaccia bread, utensils, napkins, and a bottle of water—everything a picnic needs.
Lysistrata and The Temple of Gaia is playing at Strathcona Park until August 26, 2018. The show plays Tuesday–Sunday at 8pm with an added 2pm matinee on Sundays. Tickets cost $11–22 online. Visit odysseytheatre.com for more information.