Cialis would have been a hard sell in ancient Athens — at least according to the Cripple Creek Players, whose recent production of Lysistrata at the AllWays Lounge abounded in erections of mammoth size. This sexual caricature made sense from several points of view. For one thing, Aristophanes’ play premiered in fifth-century Athens, where Priapus (a Greek fertility god and protector of male genitalia) was not yet held in disrepute. And more to the point, the heroine of the comedy, Lysistrata (Kerry Cahill) has conceived the scheme of forcing the men of Greece to stop their interminable wars through a clever tactic: by withholding sex from them. This strong-willed, determined woman prefigures some of Shakespeare’s characters, including Portia from The Merchant of Venice.
Toward the back of the stage and above Adam Tourek’s abstract environment of ionic columns stands the Goddess Athena (Aurora Nealand) wearing a winged gold fillet on her head. When the play starts, Athena puts on an accordion and becomes a one-woman band, using the keyboard, drum, chimes and other instruments to accompany the action with music of her own composition.
Lysistrata starts in a fury. The Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta has dragged on for more than a decade. Wives have lost their husbands, sons and lovers; children have lost their fathers. Lysistrata is furious not only because of the wars, but also because the women she has summoned to an urgent assembly haven’t shown up.
Finally, women from all corners of Greece arrive, Lampito (Monica Harris) from Athens’ arch enemy Sparta. Lysistrata lays out her plan and reluctantly the women agree to refrain from giving their husbands satisfaction until they declare an armistice.
There are a number of somewhat confusing interludes before we get to the desperate horny males of the species. Some elderly women take possession of the acropolis, which is sacred ground and also, apparently, a treasury of sorts. To a fifth-century Athenian, watching the play within spitting distance of the acropolis, this may have seemed shocking and relevant. To today’s audience, it doesn’t have much punch. Also, the first men on the scene are a group of shaky-limbed grotesques who seem like escapees from Marat/Sade. Eventually we learn they are dotards, too old to go to war. They set fire to the Acropolis to smoke out the female dotards inside.
Rhythmic movement and stylized postures throughout the play suggest an era of drama a long way from Henrik Ibsen, whose poetic thespian handling of moral issues was considered scandalous in the 19th century. And the language, while not lofty, is somewhat high-tone, as in: “It would be culpable negligence not to pierce the mystery.”
Finally, the comic premise of tortured abstinence reasserts itself. That’s where the outsized erections come in. A man is clearly desperate to enjoy a snuggle with his dearly beloved. She teases and avoids. Even the Herald from Sparta arrives in full tumescence.
Director Emilie Whelan put together an imaginative, energetic production with an excellent cast too large to cite individually, and the packed house appeared to love the show. Aristophanes may be scratching his head in the Elysian Fields, but undoubtedly is pleased his comedy can still keep a theater laughing.
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