A war that seems endless, men making all the political decisions, and women starting a revolution to bring it all crashing down; the contents of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata could have been taken directly from headlines of a newspaper. Spotlighters Theatre has aptly capitalized on the current state of the world to present Aristophanes’ classic play about women denying their husbands sex until the Peloponnesian War is ended and peace is achieved, newly translated by Sarah Ruden. This production has taken the tale of Lysistrata away from Greece and the Peloponnesian War, and placed it in 1969 New York City incorporating historical aspects from both the Vietnam War and the Cold War.
Playing the title character of Lysistrata, Amy Heller is fierce and confident. She emanates an undeniable command of the space, never wavering in her staunch and powerful delivery. What makes Heller’s performance fully formed though, is that she beautifully punctuates this fierce and strong character with notes of vulnerability and humanity throughout the show elevating Lysistrata into more than just the leader of this movement, but a three dimensional relatable character.
This production leaned into the “battle of the sexes” narrative and was clearly separated into a female ensemble and a male ensemble. Sharon Carter and Evangeline Ridgaway, were significant standouts from the female ensemble. Carter, playing Calonice, displayed such easy naturalism and expert level comic reactions throughout. Ridgaway playing Lampito, embodied the Russian confidence and strength of her character stunningly, always demanding attention whenever she’s driving a scene.
The male ensemble of the show however, did not match the level of polish displayed by the female ensemble, which may be an unintentionally ironic exemplification of the point of the show. With that being said there was a memorable standout performance in Matt Mitchell. Mitchell executes his character with a technical precision in timing and pace, although occasionally lacking emotional availability. His character has a lot asked of him as leader of the male chorus. He needs to be unflinchingly misogynistic and yet still redeemable enough for us to care about his arc and its resolution. For the most part Mitchell is able to achieve this even with the deck stacked against him just by the nature of his role.
The direction of the show reached some really nice moments at times, but also had a tendency to feel a touch uneven. The production was co-directed by Michael Blum and Darlene Harris. The unevenness I witnessed could be explained with having two directors; I’m curious how they divided up the work. With that being said, they managed to draw out compelling performances from their lead actors and achieve amazing comedic timing and pace across the board, which is not an easy thing to do at all.
I do wish the directors (and translator) had discovered how to incorporate the ways in which systematic oppression works. There were many missed opportunities where instead of exploring the ways in which systematic patriarchal oppression has been woven into the very fabric of their society and how its mere existence serves to oppress its women citizens, they presented individual misogynistic male characters and the women rebelling against them. Although whether this was the fault of the directors, translator, or Aristophanes himself I couldn’t say. This may also just be my bias against a 2400-year-old script written by a man, as well as a general distaste for the “battle of the sexes” trope. Nevertheless, while I’m not completely convinced of Lysistrata’s contribution to our community’s conversation around gender and equality, there’s not doubt that this production has executed the story quite well.
Should I Stay or Should I Go? While I may have personal biased feelings towards Lysistrata, Spotlighters Theatre executes the story with precision and humanity. It’s a quick 90-minute evening of theatre that leaves you laughing and examining our very own society, which is exactly what great theatre should do. (B)
Lysistrata runs through October 14th at Spotlighters Theatre and is their first production of their current season.