FOR YEARS I've heard that if you wanted to see really good student theatre, you should abandon the Loeb (and even Agassiz) and go on out to either Brandeis or Tufts. But, a true adherent of the New Provincialism, I stayed in Cambridge. Until last Saturday, that is, when I finally managed to haul myself out to Medford (or maybe it's Somerville, the line must bissect the campus) to the Tufts Arena Theatre.
Peter Arnott's staging of Lysistrata may not be the best university theatre I've seen in four years here. But I honestly can't remember anything better. It puts it all together; a simple, but visually pleasing and extraordinary functional set that, combined with Arnott's precise blocking, makes optimum use not only of the arena but of the entire theatre; a truly superior use of lighting; ingenious tinkering with the script; and acting that ranges from good to superb.
The production was a delightful compromise between ancient and modern dress and speech. Several of the lines were delivered perhaps a bit more graphically than Aristophanes intended, but that was alright. It made me catch several that I'd somehow missed before. There were several other nice touches besides Harmony, a role filled (and how) by Laurie Campbell--including a calypso chorus to Lysistrata, and a folk-song paean to Athena. the nicest, though, was to give the Spartans ten-gallon Stetsons and Texas accents. It sort of gave you a better idea of what Demosthenes was up against.
The most impressive figure, physically and dramatically, in a Stetson was Lynne Waite as Lampite, Lysistrata's spartan collaborator. She was big and tough, but not so grossly masculine as to make you think her husband would be well rid of her. But the second most disappointing scene of the play (the most being Harmony's appearance clothed) was to be hers; the original script called for her bosom to be bared. Shucks.
ALSO IN A Stetson was Peter Lempert as the Spartan Herald. No doubt his comic ability was aided by a ludicruous eighteen-inch (one presumes, fake) erection, but he would have cut a convincingly ridiculous figure anyway. Cinesias, as a deprived husband, must be a pathetic combination of exasperation, desperation, fury, and, of course, horny as hell. John Pieters does a very convincing job; he brought back those golden high-school days of drive-in movies and cramps in the groin. And after the reconciliation, with Myrrhina chasing him, he gives a similarly convincing impression of exhaustion. Judith Wells' Myrrhina is a bit colorless at first, but in the scene where she is commanded by Lysistrata to raise Cinesias to fever pitch and then leave him high and dry, she becomes a genuinely enticing piece, a bit of voluptuous femininity. Unfortunately, Dorothea Chunis as Kalonike and Elin Diamond as a bucolic Theban woman had roles far too small for actresses of their ability; Miss Diamond, in particular, created an unforgettable character with several grunts, a grimace or two, and some well-timed spitting.
The finest performances belonged, as they should, to Amy Allen as Lysistrata and Charles Sanders as the Commissioner. These are the diametrically opposed forces, Femininity and Insurgance versus Masculinity and Authority. Sanders more-or-less consciously tries to create of the commissioner a sort of Greek W.C. Fields. It's a rather dangerous thing to do; if he didn't have the voice inflections, facial expressions, and gestures (especially flicking the cigar ash) timed so well, if they didn't seem to fit naturally, it would be the sort of characterization one could easily resent.
With the blending of arachaic and modern speech, the role of Lysistrata becomes much harder. She must be an intelligent, perceptive woman, a natural leader and clearly a cut above her fellow dames--but, on the other hand, one must not be shocked when she indulges in vulgarity for emphasis. Miss Allen succeeds admirably in making Lysistrata an authoritarian, and yet feminine, figure. That is why her finest line is her last, as she embraces the Commissioner and then demands, "Is that a pickle in your pocket--or are you glad to see me?"