The original desperate housewives hold out for peace in the Yale Dramatic Association’s “Lysistrata,” a comedy originally written by Aristophanes around 410 B.C. But this pseudo-modern rendition of the play extracts the characters from ancient Greece and reassembles them in the suburban, Vietnam-era USA. What results is a play pleasantly constructed, and certainly amusing, but built on a foundation that causes a few cracks in the walls.
The play opens with a poignant scene, as the eponymous Lysistrata (a poised Presca Ahn ’09) silently (except for the click of her high heels and an accompanying violin) strides downstage to check the contents of a red mailbox. After opening, she stares at the letter in front of her while the weight of the world seems to fall upon her dainty shoulders. This scene stands out because it achieves a dramatic height that the rest of the play never approaches.
For what follows this beautiful silence is an hour crammed with antiquated, sometimes incomprehensible dialogue. The difficult script — a verse-like, Greek translation that would presumably accompany a more traditional production of the show rather than a modern, colloquial adaptation — rapidly rolls off the tongues of the players and straight through the ears of the audience. The result is some frustrating confusion about what exactly transpires moment by moment.
But “Lysistrata” entertains, even if some lines fail to register. The general story, after all, is familiar and not all that complicated. Lysistrata, despairing over a war with no end in sight, decides to take matters into her own hands by convincing her girlfriends to withhold sex until the men, starved for affection, relent and agree to peace. The rest of the play, then, marks the struggle between Martians and Venusians as both sides insist on getting what they want.
Once things get going with angry, taunting women on one side of the stage, and horny, drooling men on the other, comedic banter escalates to what ironically becomes psychological warfare, albeit in a less than serious, T-birds versus Pink Ladies kind of way). Double entendres and suggestive language are wielded like swords by Lysistrata’s defiant army as they tease almost to the point of climax, but refuse to give in. The best scene is the one that focuses on Myrrhine (Alexandra Trow ’09) and her husband Cinesias (Gabriel Sloyer ’09.) Trow’s bubbly flirtations and Sloyer’s tortured whining emerge as the most refreshingly entertaining exchange in “Lysistrata,” and succeed for a moment in conquering the script’s imposing difficulty.
Visually, “Lysistrata” relies on a colorful, “Leave it to Beaver” –inspired aesthetic that appropriately coincides with its overall light-hearted mood. The set (designed by Jeff White ’09, a staff photographer for the News) features a front door and picket fence arrangement that seems pulled straight from an Easter Sunday coloring book. A small, grapes-shaped decal nicely adorning the epicenter of the stage pays subtle homage to the play’s Greek origin. To stage left there’s a bed — neither inside nor outside — with a questionable heart-shaped headboard reminiscent of the love-nest from “The Sims.” Minimal props, most of which are pillows, prevent clutter and allow the focus to remain on the actors.
Just as fitting are the selectively chromatic costumes of Adele Li ’09. Aside from a dangling thread or two (and the presence of white shoes after Labor Day,) the women’s pastel sweaters, hoop skirts, flower prints, polka dots and ribbons are perfectly feminine. They contrast sharply and effectively with the men’s grumpy, black and white suits and ties. Li should also be commended for the hilarious faux-boners that are stuffed into pants of the male actors, whether or not, of course, she did the stuffing herself. She also deserves kudos for inviting consideration as to the degree that the actors needed extra help.
“Lysistrata,” at last, leaves just that kind of impression. Penis jokes and pretty clothes decorate an old play made of old words. And even if there are a few cracks in the wall, at least there’s a nice, pretty picture there to cover them up.