There is a clever juxtaposition between the central theme and the modified opening of the play. We are here to listen to what is being said: to hear the voices on stage deliver their message. “Are we being heard?” they ask. Are they?
The play opens with a series of dialogue free actions that set the tone for the theatrical battle of wits and yet no one is listening. Not the people in the play, the audience who have paid to watch it. It took a solid ten minutes and the arrival of Bard artistic director Christopher Gaze to alert the audience to the fact that the action was under way and it was time to listen. Keenly poignant, and yet hardly anyone seemed to notice. Score one for the director.
It is the year 411B.C. and with little to no political power, nor means of protest, Lysistrata tells the light-hearted tale of women who use the abstinence of sex to manipulate their men into drawing a truce and putting an end to the war at hand. If you want a man to listen you’ve got to find a way to grab his, um, attention and hold on tight until the fat lady sings. Lysistrata clamps down tight with the one asset the men are hard pressed to ignore.
Director Lois Anderson and playwright Jennifer Wise have reconfigured Aristophanes’s play to add authority to the voice of women and the plight of the environment. While the story may be old, the rendition is undeniably new right down to the last drop of bottled water.
In an era where public discussion is voiced through the theatre, it can be a powerful thing to hold centre stage. An all women version of Hamlet is set to open when the theatre is urgently taken over by an unrehearsed troupe of women who feel they have a more important message to deliver about their warring cities. Set against a contemporary backdrop of saving Vanier Park from construction destruction, the women make their case for affecting actual change through their messaging, as opposed to trudging through a hapless, floundering Hamlet.
The play is cross-pollinated with contemporary First Nations land issues and the desecration of the earth, and peppered with myriad references to the passed over abilities and accomplishments of women, including a hilariously orchestrated real life reference to an exceptional theatrical accomplishment of one the main characters.
Some things work better than others. The costumes are side-splittingly exquisite. Since the eclipsing troupe is apparently unrehearsed and without costumes, all outfits are supposedly thrown together at the last minute with whatever materials happened to be around. Without spoiling the surprise, it has to be said the royal entrances drew raucous applause from the crowd, and this was not your typically biased opening night crowd we’re talking about, but a month into the season. Having said that, the costumes could have easily fallen flat if not for the commitment and choices of the actors involved. No one struts quite like actor Marci T. House.
The performances are what effectively knit the story together in a comprehensible manner and thread the contemporary with the antiquated.
In the second half of the play, just as you’re going, “Wait, what? Singing?” the songs take over and it feels like they’ve been singing all along. Luisa Jojic is an absolute pleasure with an angelic voice.
On the flip side, one character uses graffiti as a means of being heard and rallies the masses against the police who come to arrest the lone woman. It falls flat because it comes off as downtrodden female entitlement. Not a fair balance to breaking the law. The VPD policemen, however, restore the balance and draw the audience into their evolution of thought as they break down their personal experience of the story unfolding on stage.
The audience participation section is slow and tedious but some of the viewers seemed to like the involvement just the same. Some.
Although the final monologue was difficult to hear, it wasn’t too difficult to decipher. The story threads are tied together nicely at the end and we are left, hopefully, with something to think about.
One disclaimer, there is nudity and several hilariously scaring sex-related visuals. If you can deal with that then Lysistrata is a fabulous night at the beach. Enjoy.
Click HERE for a link to tickets