On Monday a whole lot of Washington actors, directors and drama students will do their bit for the Lysistrata Project. That's the international antiwar theater event in which on the same day stage artists in 30 countries and 49 of the 50 U.S. states will present readings of Aristophanes' comedy.
In "Lysistrata," written in 411 B.C., the title character organizes the women of Athens, Sparta and neighboring cities to withhold sex from their husbands until the men stop making war. According to www.lysistrataproject.com, the New York Web site where the project was born (conceived by actress Kathryn Blume), more than 500 readings will take place Monday.
Joe Martin, a theater lecturer at Catholic University and artistic director of the experimental Open Theatre, is the "spearhead" for the D.C. project. With the help of Charter Theatre's Rachel Gardner, he's coordinating readings at four venues and directing the one at the Warehouse Theatre.
When Martin first visited the Lysistrata site last month, he was chagrined. "There were maybe 40 cities on there and there was nothing for Washington, D.C., the capital city, the heart of the issue. . . . So I signed on . . . and all of a sudden, people began popping up."
Soon he and his Open Theatre were collaborating with Horizons, Gala, Charter and Venus theaters and Code Pink (part of the Women's Vigil for Peace, which demonstrates daily in Lafayette Square).
Genevieve Compton, a company member of Phoenix Theatre, will direct a reading at Source. Students from Duke Ellington School of the Arts will perform an excerpt of their full staging of the play at Mimi's American Bistro near Dupont Circle. African Continuum Theatre's artistic director, Jennifer Nelson, will stage a reading at Vertigo Books in College Park. The Vertigo reading is at 7 p.m., all others at 7:30. For details visit www.chartertheatre.org/lysistratadc.
"This is all about solidarity, showing how we all feel the same on this issue," said Martin. "There's been a remarkably small amount of the kind of competitiveness you find between our always desperate artistic community."
'New Images and Not Old Lies'
"We spent years taking popular culture and twisting it for our own purposes," said Peggy Shaw, half of Split Britches, the Obie-winning experimental theatrical duo. Shaw, 59, and Lois Weaver, 53, founded their feminist lesbian mini-troupe in 1980. They'll travel from their home base at New York's La Mama Experimental Theater Club to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Friday and Saturday nights.
On the program are two pieces created in collaboration with a London-based musical dance troupe, the Clod Ensemble. "Miss Risque" explores the mysteries of gender in a comic tale about a Paris music hall vamp (Weaver) and an undercover policeman (Shaw) who thinks she's a spy. "It's a Small House and We Lived in It Always," a nonverbal piece, observes two people as they try to share emotions, living space -- and a lemon.
Shaw and Weaver have a fascination with characters outside the mainstream. "The idea of telling the story of the Outsider is an important driving force for us, but also we like to talk about relationships," said Weaver. "We focus in on moments of people's lives" more than on "conventional ideas of plot or narrative."
Weaver and Shaw have developed a stylized stage physicality reminiscent of European experimental theater. "We wanted to represent our bodies in a way that's original . . . rather than being imposed upon to make us look younger or skinnier," said Shaw. "What we need to do is create new images and not old lies. We always thought a lot of work created about women was old lies."
Benchley Does Benchley
"Streets full of water. Please advise," Robert Benchley cabled a friend while on his first trip to Venice.
Character actor Nat Benchley, grandson of the legendary humorist, writer, comic actor and Algonquin Round Table wit, polishes off that line and other martini-dry drolleries in his solo show "Benchley Despite Himself," running through Saturday at Theater on the Run in Arlington.
Nat Benchley never knew his grandfather, who died in 1945. He conceived the show in 1989 partly because of "a real distaste for many of the popular comedians of the day," who, unlike Robert Benchley, did not represent comedy with class.
In early versions of the show, Nat Benchley didn't allow his own persona to creep in. "For a long time, I wanted to hide behind Robert and just use his words," he said. But the words revealed little about the man, whose drinking and philandering hinted at some unhappiness. "What screwed me up is he never told the truth about himself," said the actor.
Director Nick Olcott told Benchley he didn't seem to be having any fun with the material. "He and others convinced me I had to go onstage as myself and comment about Robert and be him," said Nat. He created a script that wove his own observations among the Benchley witticisms.
"My theory about him is that he knew, inside himself, all these things he thought he should be doing," Nat Benchley said. His grandfather, he believes, thought he should have been writing literature instead of books like "My Ten Years in a Quandary, and How They Grew" and monologues such as "The Sex Life of the Polyp."
But, said the actor, "my grandfather helped this country and a lot of people abroad get through the Depression and the Second World War. And he would never give himself even that much credit."
* Signature Theatre has sold out its scheduled run of Stephen Sondheim's "Follies," so it's added three more weeks. The show will run April 1-June 1.
* The Shakespeare Theatre's reading of Ibsen's "Brand" originally scheduled for last night has been moved to April 14. Call 202-547-1122, Ext. 4, to reserve again, or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org
* Holly Twyford, Rick Foucheux and Ian Peakes, cast members of the fab "Twelfth Night" recently at the Folger Theatre, will read excerpts from "Much Ado About Nothing" during recitative sections of Hector Berlioz's opera "Beatrice et Benedict," performed by the Washington Concert Opera tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Call 202-467-4600 or visit www.concertopera.org