'Lysistrata': Men's Achilles', Um, Heel
By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 30, 2009
Who told those high-minded artistes at undulating Synetic Theater that they were allowed to have fun? Because a kick is what they seem to be having -- and what you'll experience, too -- with their delectably bawdy new version of "Lysistrata."
The oft-adapted comedy by Aristophanes, in which the women of Greece go on a sex strike until their men stop making war, is being staged with its randiness snicker-worthily intact. And as the emphasis on this occasion is the power that women hold to drive men out of their one-track minds, the production turns "Lysistrata" into an entertainingly winking guide to sex and the frustrated modern male.
That it's being presented on a college campus adds a dash of Spring Break-y playfulness: It could have been titled "Girls Gone Tame." (Until, ahem, they're not.) The fresh ingredients for this outing must be attributed to the new writer-director Synetic has recruited: Derek Goldman, theater head at Georgetown University. He's one of few other than Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili ever to shepherd a Synetic show. And his superior command of text gives extra value, providing a colloquial suppleness lacking in much of the company's movement-based output.
At the university's Gonda Theatre -- where "Lysistrata" runs before moving to Synetic's home base, the Rosslyn Spectrum in Arlington -- you are still fully aware of the show's artistic pedigree. The recorded original score is by Synetic's composer, Konstantine Lortkipanidze, and the dancing by Irina Tsikurishvili pulsates with the sensuousness and vitality so familiar in this choreographer's work.
Those elements are integrated capably into Goldman's freewheeling, time-bending production, which retains Synetic's minimalist design aesthetic. Much of the activity occurs on a three-tier scaffolding by set creator Robbie Hayes -- a jungle gym of sorts for Tsikurishvili's supercharged choreography and a seemingly inexhaustible cast of 16. Deb Sivigny's sexy costumes are intended to hint at the pleasures no one is being treated to.
Although the plot is steered by the accomplished Deirdra LaWan Starnes portraying the scheming, headstrong Lysistrata, the supporting players are relatively green and several are Georgetown undergraduates. You wouldn't know it, given the evening's all-around solidity. Then again, a comedy about ego, hormones and abstinence might not require a profoundly contemplative rehearsal period.
Aristophanes wrote "Lysistrata" in 411 B.C., when Athens was enmeshed in the decades-long Peloponnesian War; it has retained its popularity as a statement against war. While Goldman's "Lysistrata" makes clear the wartime setting -- a crisp, virile prologue, set to a percussive beat, has the men dancing their hostilities out on the battlefield -- the real conflict is between the sexes. Lysistrata implores the reluctant women to withhold sexual favors. This is their bargaining chip, she explains, their ticket to guaranteeing their own fulfillment, for as a result of stopping the war, there'll actually be someone around for them to have sex with.
"No man," Lysistrata instructs, "can have a happy life if his woman doesn't want him to."
Viva empowerment. In just one of the smartly rendered demonstrations of their newfound sway, the women take a blunt object to the statue of a man, played by one of the actors, and reduce it to a jumble of limbs.
Much of the evening's comic vigor concerns the various ways by which the women torment the men. As with Shakespeare Theatre Company's concurrent production, a modernized version of Euripides' "Ion," the wall comes down between the mores of antiquity and the present day. So that with this "Lysistrata" are presented vignettes, set in pickup bars and the like, where the Greek guys are led on by the Greek ladies, only to be denied their warmth and comfort.
In the ribald tradition of the play, this "Lysistrata" goes beyond innuendo, too, from the recitation of a laundry list of euphemisms for a man's endowment, to a pretty steamy sequence that might disqualify the production as the type to feature on parents' weekend.
A few times, the jokiness does verge on, well, the collegiate. But energy and inventiveness win the day. The evening earns a lot more in the way of honest laughs and admiring nods than smirks.
Lysistrata, by Aristophanes. Adapted and directed by Derek Goldman. Choreography, Irina Tsikurishvili; original music, Konstantine Lortkipanidze; lighting, Dan Covey; set, Robbie Hayes; costumes, Deb Sivigny. With Philippe Bowgen, Holly Bryce, Joseph Carlso n, Caitlin Cassidy, Marjory Collado, Vince Eisenson, Zehra Fazal, S. Lewis Feemster , Miranda Hall, Renata Veberyte Loman, Matt MacNelly, Danny Rivera, Sarah Taurchini, Justine Underhill and Clark Young. About 90 minutes.