HCC’s ‘Lysistrata’ Takes Humorous Liberties

This Saturday, the Harvard Classical Club translated Aristophanes’s classical Athenian “Lysistrata”—the story of a band of woman determined to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding sex from their “menfolk”—into a modern discussion of sex and gender roles. In this case, “translate” was a loose term; the disgruntled Grecian housewives drive minivans with baby-on-board stickers and complain about husbands who don’t listen to their advice.

The Harvard Classical Club did more than add verbal allusions to the modern housewife’s strait; the liberties they took with the original text extended to sequined dresses and the incorporation of life-like dildos. Although “Lysistrata” sometimes bordered on absurdity, the humor created an original adaptation that highlighted the timeless feminist undertones of a classical play.

Modernizing old classics to make them relatable again is a perilous venture, sometimes rewarding—like in the Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger film “Ten Things I Hate About You”—but often disastrous, such as in the Shakespeare-inspired Amanda Bynes flick “She’s the Man.”

Although director James M. Leaf ’11 took great pains to keep the dialogue current, the set and costumes were wildly anachronistic, making it all the more clear that the gender issues Aristophanes explored in 411 B.C. persist through multiple millennia. The Loeb Experimental Theatre was transformed into a gritty, graffiti-laden dungeon, and the women wore costumes applicable to a number of female archetypes—the blouse and pearls of a housewife, the pink sundress of a Southern belle, the sequined mini-dress of a hooker.

Lysistrata (Olivia J. Jampol ’09), stomping around in a black mini-skirt, black boots, and a leopard-print jacket, was convincing as a galvanizing force and militant feminist. After the male politicians and military officers ignore her initial pleas for peace between Athens and Sparta, she persuades the Athenian women to lock themselves up in Acropolis. But first, the lights dimmed as the men and women engaged in ninja-style combat. Points go to Ismenia (Vanessa B. Koo ’12) for enthusiastically engaging in the choreography as a housewife with an undercurrent of almost rabid aggression—even while wearing a pleated mini skirt.

After a couple weeks of the sexual siege, the Athenian men, frustrated and tired of walking around with an erection—illustrated by very realistic dildos—agree to meet with the Spartans to make peace. The Spartans have been having similar issues; “Just as we’re about to get our freak on,” a herald (Aseem A. Shukla ’11) complains, “they talk about our military-industrial complexes.” Finally the Grecian men concede defeat and settle on a hasty treatise.

“Lysistrata” managed to stay loyal to the classical Grecian comedy’s plot while integrating modern allusions. The sequin-clad women use a metaphor for spinning wool to illustrate the necessity of negotiations and peacekeeping and also consult the Oracle of Delphi. But while maintaining that spirit of conscientious pacifism, “Lysistrata” snidely pokes fun at modern gender stereotypes. “Did your wife redo the den into a living room and paint it eggshell?” one Athenian gripes to another. “And what the fuck is a chocolate fountain?”

While HRDC’s “Lysistrata” often succumbs to the slapstick humor, sexual obscenities, and explicit double-entendres that are inevitable in a battle-of-the-sexes plot, it manages to offer a humorous but sincere discourse on modern feminism.