A play about making war – and not making love
The Talbot Theatre production of Lysistrata both entertained and delighted this member of the audience, who was there partly because of an English assignment requirement, but mainly because of the opportunity to enjoy a live theatre production. The theatre company employed many different components to bring this antiwar play to life that evening on the stage.
These components can be broken into three categories, which visually enhanced the text of the play. The first of these categories is the setting, the stage lighting, and the props. The second component is the symbolism of some of those props, and the third component is the character portrayals by the actors on the stage.
To take us back to ancient Greece, the props master employed a very simple interpretation using columns on a raised set of steps, with a backdrop of blue. To add to the feel of the era, a statue stands in the middle of the platform. This platform serves double duty as the Akropolis and as the Citadel, both of which the women have occupied. When the men light a fire below the walls of the Akropolis, smoke pours out of the bundle of sticks, making it appear as if a fire has really been ignited. Fortunately the women are ready and the fire is extinguished and the men all doused with water, which is portrayed well with buckets and actions that look as if the men are being driven away by the water. When Kinesias comes to see Myrrhine, and they head off to Pans cave, the stage lighting is dimmed to give the effect of the darkness of being in a cave. The most strikingly visual use of stage props is the appearance of larger than life erect phalluses under the tunics of all the male main characters during the second half of the play.
These seemingly grotesque male members serve to symbolize the frustration of the men. However, they are also a symbol of how the mens political power has been superceded by the primitive urge for sex, and how the women now hold power over the men. The statue, which is on the platform, is dressed in armor and symbolizes the war. The shield is taken by the women to be used for the purpose of swearing their oath, but they quickly realize that they cannot swear for peace on a shield used for war. This warrior statue disappears at the end of the play, reappearing as a female, the statue of PEACE, considerably shapelier and more enticing to the men.
The characters presented the most impressive visual component. Lysistrata was portrayed perfectly as a down-to-earth woman who has had enough of war and is willing to lead a revolution to end it. Most of the rest of the women are portrayed as being frothy little things, more interested in clothing, shopping and sex, interests which Lysistrata feels that she can employ to bring about the change in the mens attitudes. The costumes on the main characters evoked the image of the time, and helped to define the characters. Both the members of the female chorus and the male chorus are dressed in white, to keep them separate in our minds from the main characters of the story. However, they are employed in such a way in the play as to explain a lot of the story to us by carrying a lot of the action and dialogue of the altercations between the sexes.
The main characters employed a number of acting techniques to convey the images of the play. Lampito carries herself differently and speaks with an accent, and although she is dressed somewhat the same as the other women, we realize that she comes from Sparta. The Magistrate struts on to the stage, accompanied by a constable, only to be harassed and ultimately humiliated by the women, who will not be arrested. They turn the tables on the constable by tying him up with his own rope, and then send the magistrate and the constable packing. Comic moments happen when the desperate-for-sex women try to sneak away from the Citadel and are caught by Lysistrata. One of these women takes the helmet from the statue and tries to simulate a pregnancy that was not there the day before.
An excellent portrayal of a frustrated husband is seen when Kinesias comes to find Myrrhine. This is the first appearance of a male with a very large protuberance under his tunic, and Kinesias has all of the facial expressions and body language of a man being teased and frustrated by his wife. Lysistrata has taken this opportunity to coach Myrrhine to torment and tease him to reinforce the cause. After Kinesias leaves, more male characters appear with the same suffering and misery visible below their belts. We sense that the time is near for the men to give in and begin talks with Lysistrata and the women.
When peace is finally achieved, it is a time for drinking, music and dancing. There is a solo sung by one of the Spartans, who is then joined by more people in a dance. Finally all of the group, both the men and the women are dancing and joyous.
This ensemble has taken a play that is timeless in its message, and through the use of props and stage lighting has taken us back in time to mingle with, and enjoy the characters that live this story.