‘Lysistrata’ comes alive at Brucemore


Peggy Boyle Whitworth Amphitheater at Brucemore — through July 22

Hannah Spina (L) and Jessica Link in the Classics at Brucemore production of ‘Lysistrata.’ — photo by Struttmann Photo

There is an incredible adaptability inherent in theatre and I rejoice inside when I get the opportunity to explore it along with a group of artists and their audience. I was lucky enough to snag two tickets to Wednesday night’s preview performance of Lysistrata at Brucemore, where the cast and crew put their deft adaptability skills on display.

The performance was scheduled for the lawn, but outside, natural forces determine the life or death of an outdoor production. Torrential downpour was the name of the game that night, and the director had to make a call. Cancel? There was a pool of water around the stage, making it impossible for entrances and exits to happen safely. Most directors would probably throw in the towel: Thanks for coming, everyone! Please try again!

But Leslie Charipar made a different call. Come inside, everyone. To a little, cramped (cozy?) room. The actors will be put far from their comfort zone. But they will prevail — and you will be pleased, you lucky few who sit in a circle on the floor of the Brucemore Visitor Center. The players frolicked in their character dress in a space that was a fraction of the size of their normal, now drowned, playing area. They couldn’t avoid audience interaction, and it was thrilling to be a part of this newly created, surprising performance.

Charipar popped her head around the corner and grinned: “Ten minute intermission, everyone!” And then she made another call: The rest of the show was performed in the courtyard of the Visitor’s center. No lights. No mics (I personally detest mics anyhow). Just fly-by-the-seat-of-your-costume-pants art.

I was recently speaking with a young performer about how exciting festivals (fringe or otherwise) can be because you have to create a show in one place and then perform it somewhere else: a completely new venue with completely different capabilities (or a total lack of capabilities), and you have no clue what to expect until you receive your assignment, sometimes the very day of your performance. Some people don’t jive with scenarios like this, but I find it exhilarating. And that contagious exhilaration was palpable in the entire cast, crew and preview audience of Brucemore’s Lysistrata.

There is an extreme bravery in the decision that “the show must go on” despite the elemental interference. Everything the cast and crew had made together as collaborating artists up to that point is thrown out the window. They had to turn it into something entirely new, continually creating right before our eyes. Last minute, continual changes like that require a very trusting ensemble and an extraordinary dedication to the piece. This wasn’t just “live” theatre. This was “alive.” Kudos to Charipar and the entire cast and crew of Lysistrata for pushing forward with the show on Wednesday night. It will be impossible to replicate a performance such as we saw, but I truly hope the following performances can maintain some of that spontaneity and energy.

Jessica Link interacts with the audience at Wednesday’s preview of ‘Lysistrata.’ — photo by Struttmann Photo

Though not exceptionally sophisticated, the script (a recent translation from the Aristophanes original) is racy and funny, and the performers handle it with energy and commitment. I’m not able to comment on staging or technical elements, but I’ll say the performers used the ever-changing newly adopted landscape(s) very well. I had difficulty with the overall costume vision. There seemed to be a lack of coherence and the world of the play felt very different for each character. I did appreciate the added contemporary winks in some of the garment choices.

Hannah Spina as Lysistrata held her power throughout (sometimes size isn’t everything!) and we watched that confidence quickly build within her family of feminine warriors for peace. In general, there was an over-the-top quality to the male performances (at times too over-the-top) while the women were more subdued. I would have preferred a more evenly matched interpretation between the sides. It felt a bit like two different plays.

Special mention goes to John Miersen and Shelby Louviere who did a particularly wonderful job during a scene in the second half — him trying to bed his wife, her inventing stall after stall until it became clear all his blood was pooling “south of the equator” and making him crazier (and more engorged) by the second. Miersen especially did some wonderful physical work. It was undoubtedly the high point of the show.

I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the main theme of the show. It’s a comedy, sure, but there is truth within it: women have power. Our fairer sex has fought a continual battle — and while withholding our sexual favors might not be the tool we choose to use to keep ships from launching, we do fight. Every day: We fight.

I have many lovely male friends, most of whom are true feminists. But it remains true that they can never know what it is like to grow up in this world a woman, undoubtedly the unluckier of the sexes. For the time being.

In the progressive Lysistrata, they discuss how a woman’s worth is used up when looks fade. How women are expected to tend to the home, cook the meals, make the babies. And, yes, we’ve made strides in many areas, but you’re kidding yourself if you believe there is an equality between the cock and the cat.

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And yet, we women have power. If nothing else, we can control our bodies. Women, you are yours and no man’s. No legislation can take that away from you. But, insanely, we must hold strong to this notion and to each other, as this inalienable right is under consistent fire.

In the meantime, I hope all genders get their chance to experience the kind of Lysistrata I have. May we all brave the storms together and fight for peace and equality through art and a hearty dose of laughter.

Also: go team vagina.

Lysistrata runs one more weekend, Thursday June 20 through Saturday June 22. Tickets are $15-20.