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Photo: Andrew Alexander

Theatre Review: Lysistrata at The Gladstone—until 05.18.19

By Brian Carroll on May 11, 2019

Comedy | Mature language and content

Five minutes into Theatre Kraken’s production of Lysistrata, I thought to myself: “I’m going to enjoy writing this review!”

Many productions of Lysistrata are loosely based on the plot of Aristophanes’ play. This includes some of the best, like Odyssey Theatre’s 2018 production of Lysistrata and the Temple of Gaia.

The women of Greece are fed up with being left alone while their husbands and sons go off to a never-ending sequence of wars. So they decide to go on strike: no peace, no sex. That’s the Coles Notes version.

But Theatre Kraken has decided to comb several translations of Aristophanes’ original script and use much of his text. Unlike many productions, these women are not merely withholding sex. They are denying their own lusty desires for the greater good. These women are not just lonely. OMG, are they horny!

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Some productions focus only on Athens, but in this production, Lysistrata recruits allies from city states throughout Greece, including Sparta. In 411 BCE, when the play was written and performed, Athens, Sparta and most Greek city-states were in the midst of the Peloponnesian War.

Don Fex’s direction is impeccable. He’s put 15 (!) actors on stage. At all times, each person on stage is doing something to move the story forward. There are no “spear carriers” standing stiffly, waiting their turn. Everybody has a job, and Fex is getting the best out of each and every one. This is a true ensemble production.

Under Kenny Hayes’s music direction, the ensemble singing sparkles with delightful harmonies.

With two exceptions, Hayes has set the musical numbers to text from translations of the original script. As he says, it’s “vulgar, crude, downright filthy.” I’m sure Aristophanes would approve.

Under Fex’s direction and Brenda Solman’s choreography, the ensemble cast succeeds to “suit the action to the word, the word to the action.” The action is as lewd as the script, sending the audience into gales of laughter. The women in the audience were particularly voluble in their responses. One reaction to a particularly explicit scene (no spoilers here) was a loud and unrestrained “Oh my!” Somebody got her money’s worth! At intermission, the audience was abuzz. It’s a treat to see people so excited by theatre after just the first half.

It’s a good thing Lysistrata isn’t taught in high school. More people would go to live theatre. We certainly can’t have that!

The sexual innuendoes fly fast and furious from the get-go. When Lysistrata remonstrates with one of the many latecomers to her meeting, the reply is, “It took me ages to find my knickers in the dark!” Lysistrata doesn’t have to ask for details; the audience fills them in with their imaginations. Or when one of the women complains that, with the men away, she has to use the tool from a certain city as a substitute, the dreamy reaction of all the other women makes it clear that she’s not talking about a garden trowel.

I don’t mean to imply that all the dialogue is innuendoes and euphemisms. Much of the text is too explicit to quote in this publication. Let’s just say that the women (and men) call a spade a spade.

Photo: Andrew Alexander

The set is a comic-book version of the white picket fence suburbs of the 1950s (and reminiscent of Norman McLaren’s film Neighbours). This was a time after women were sent back to their homes so returning soldiers could get their industrial jobs back. As in Aristophanes’ time, women were not expected to rise to power and take over the responsibilities of state. The costumes and music reflect that Cold War era of white gloves, crinolines and budding rock-and-roll. The Spartans even have Russian accents.

There are also contemporary references in the staging. For example when the women occupy the Parthenon (and its treasury) to dry up the funds for the war, a mob of old Athenian men assemble to storm the Parthenon. The men are carrying tiki torches as at Charlottesville.

Lewd, sexy, ribald, hilariously funny, richly entertaining and bold! To quote director Fex, this is a text that “makes many references to women’s sexual agency, and to how much women enjoy sex.” It’s a good thing Lysistrata isn’t taught in high school. More people would go to live theatre. We certainly can’t have that!

As evidenced by the present Ontario government’s treatment of the sex education curriculum, not everyone will approve of Aristophanes’s portrayal of sex, lust, women and men. But who says that theatre has to be safe? Kudos to Theatre Kraken for bringing such a brilliant, hilarious and entertaining production of this lusty classic to The Gladstone stage.

Lysistrata by Theatre Kraken is playing at The Gladstone Theatre until Saturday May 18. Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm. Saturday matinees at 2:30pm. Tickets are $23–39 online and available at the box office (613) 233-4523. The play runs for approximately 2 hours including one intermission.