Hard At Work

The Q Players Rise To The Occasion In 'Lysistrata'

By Zachary Woodruff

WHAT'S THE BEST way to get a bunch of men to behave? Why, deny them sex until their erections are excruciating, of course. That's exactly what the women of Greece do in Lysistrata, a comedy dating back to 411 BC--a time when women didn't have too many other options for empowerment, and men didn't have hand lotion.

Review Now let's switch gears and ask a different question: What's the best way to make a 27-year-old reviewer feel like an old man? Why, by inviting him to watch that same play performed by vivacious, early-20s students who are having such a blast that the reviewer can't help but envy their youthful, um, stamina.

That reviewer was skeptical, of course. When he arrived at the Temple of Music and Art's small, upstairs Cabaret Theatre, he noted there was a certain "high-school feeling" in the air. Indeed, much of the audience seemed to be composed of teens and parental-looking adults, many of whom were giggling (the teens, that is). Flashbacks to stilted junior-year productions started whizzing by faster than you can say Grosse Pointe Blank.

But as the toga-clad cast busily prepared themselves in a rain-spattered hallway outside the theater, he asked himself, "Shouldn't I give them a chance? Aren't I being a bit of a fuddy duddy?" Rumination over those questions was cut short by the disturbing realization that the reviewer could no longer distinguish teenagers from people in their early-to-mid 20s. The program for this Quicksilver Productions play said the cast was made up of "young adults ages 16 to 26," even indicating that a few were college graduates. But for some reason they all seemed like teens. From there, it's a long way to 27, you know.

Things looked grim as the play began. It didn't help that the opening scene of Aristophanes' play requires a chorus of masked women to saunter out shaking tambourines and chanting. What was Aristophanes thinking? Nor did it help that when the women, led by Lysistrata, take over the Acropolis of Athens, the entire cast runs around shaking staffs and squealing. You know that cacophonous sound when the kids on The Brady Bunch get in an argument and all try to talk at once? Same thing. The reviewer half-expected a Zeus-like Robert Reed to walk in and say, "Whoa-ho-ho! Let's keep it down to a dull roar."

But somewhere within the play's first half hour, the proceedings redeemed themselves. It's unclear why or how, but one half-suspects that the nature of the play brought out the best in this cast of mostly amateurs. Lysistrata is a very silly play with a very bawdy storyline. The long and short of it is that all the women of Athens and Sparta put their men in the figurative doghouse (as they didn't have literal doghouses back then) until they end the 20-year Peloponnesian War. This leaves the men constantly walking around groaning about painful priapic conditions. A viewing of Lysistrata should be required for anyone who thinks Beavis and Butthead, with all their snickering over "morning wood," signal the demise of Western civilization.

In 1994, the University of Arizona theatre department produced Lysistrata with more than a few modern touches. These included a revised script full of four-letter words, liberal doses of pop music, and costumes that required the men to wear throbbing cruise-missile strap-ons. Thankfully, this production receives a kinder, gentler updating. Sure, they slip in a few 20th-century colloquialisms, and they play Madonna's "Express Yourself" during the curtain call, but it's not over-the-top. In any case, no one could help laughing when an over-gesticulating, Valley Girl character exclaimed, "Make peace between Sparta and Athens! Duh!" after her whining, pining mate asked what he'd have to do to sleep with her.

Lysistrata makes a terrific play for amateurs because it doesn't require much in the way of subtlety. (Many of the women's performances, with their "you go girl" sassiness, are reminiscent of daytime talk shows--and it was appropriate!) But what's especially great about the play is the way its sexual frankness forces the cast to overcome, or should I say "rise above," extreme embarrassment. Face it, once you've run around with a visible erection in front of a large group of strangers, you're going to feel like you can do damn near anything.

The production inspires lots of grinning. Even a nearby couple, who resolutely watched with crossed arms and stern expressions, were caught chuckling towards the end of the play. Maybe it was the tinge of sarcasm in the voice of the performer who exclaimed that homosexual sex was out of the question (since we all know Greeks had few qualms in that department). Or maybe it had something to do with the man who licked his lips and said, "What a great ass Peace has," after the Goddess of Peace, wearing a belly-button ring, showed up doing a sexy interpretive dance that would've been at home in the local Fineline dance club.

Whatever the case, all the performances clicked into place as the actors relaxed and found their comic footing. By play's end, they were keyed-up and having some serious fun, and it showed on their fresh, sweaty faces. You couldn't help but feel happy on their behalf, and wish them a joy similar to that which their characters found by the end of the play.

If Lysistrata has a point--from a punster's perspective it has many points, but let's be mature here--it's a simple matter of valuing love over war, settlement over conflict, domesticated penis over power-hungry phallus. From a decrepit 27-year-old perspective, it has something to do with not underestimating young 'uns: What they lack in experience, they more than make up for with vitality.

The final performance of Quicksilver Productions' Lysistrata is at 8 p.m. Saturday, August 16, in the Temple of Music and Art Cabaret Theatre, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets are $6, $5 for students/seniors/military. Call 529-2687 for tickets and information. The next "Q Players" show will run January 26 though February 8. TW

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