No Sex Please, We're Athenian

Lysistrata Directed by Amy Cabranes At the Loeb Mainstage Through October 26

Imagine ancient Athens with a dash of Mae West, ancient Sparta with a touch of Katherine Hepburn, the Pelopanesian War to the tune of "Singin' in the Rain." Director Amy Cabranes expertly blends these themes in a well-choreographed adaptation of Aristophanes' Lysistrata.

Lysistrata is the story of a group of ancient Greek women--Kleonike (China Forbes), Myrrhine (Nell Benjamin), Lampito (Alison Weller) and Ismenia (Daniela Raz) --who, led by the title character (Mary Dixie Carter), withhold sex from their husbands to tempt the men home from war.

Amy Cabranes' adaptation of this script is a true tour de force. She successfully shifts the play's focus from war to gender issues and uses overtones of 1930s Hollywood to emphasize the timelessness of gender conflict. Cabranes frames the play with an artful prologue, consisting of such Hollywood clips as, "Sex always has something to do with it, dear"; "Men's all alike, married or single"; and "You're my prisoner and I'm gonna be your jailer for a long, long time."

While maintaining Aristophanes' Greek setting, Cabranes replays music from the prologue throughout the show, introduces a male and female chorus (Bart St. Clair and Faith Salie) to represent each gender as a whole, and peppers the dialogue with apt Shakespearian references and 20th century colloquialisms.

This remarkable integration of present and past culminates in a scene between Lysistrata and the commissioner (Eric Anderson) in which the modernly dressed chorus members interject timeless witticisms--"How was the assembly today, dear? Anything in the minutes about peace?"

In spite of the message, the show remains lighthearted. Jeanne Simpson's phenomenal choreography, especially in the scene parodying "Singin' in the Rain," helps to sustain the playful tone. The male and female chorus members are delightful, as they spar, tango and symbolically sharpen knives at the dinner table. Although the phallic use of umbrellas is carried slightly too far, by the end of the show the audience does view the battle of the sexes as a timeless dance.

At the heart of this dance is Lysistrata, by far the most challenging role in the play. Carter convinces the audience that her character has deeper motives than lust. She displays a commanding presence, especially when leading the women in an oath of chastity; "I will withhold all rights of access or entrance..." Occasionally, though, the glitz and energy of the production over-shadow her character. Playing the straight woman among vivid caricatures and dancers is a daunting task.

Myrrhine is one such caricature, a sparkling and ditsy seductress. The scene in which she woos husband Kinesias (Adam Geyer) is one of the most memorable of the show. Kleo, another caricature, enlivens the stage, punctuating her lines with grand gestures of a feather boa. Raz and Weller give polished performances as well.

Lysistrata is an entertaining and brilliantly choreographed adaptation of Aristophanes' original. And the allusions to 1930s Hollywood--"You have no idea what a long-legged gal can do without doing anything," integrated into an ancient Greek setting, successfully emphasize the timelessness of gender issues.