The Woodsworth Innis New Drama Society gave a dynamic performance of Aristophanes’ classic comedy Lysistrata last week. Directed by Liz McLoughlin, Lysistrata was performed in the New College Quad at the St. George campus.
Lysistrata follows the headstrong Athenian protagonist, Lysistrata (Dorcas Chiu), as she endeavors to end the Peloponnesian War against the Spartans. Determined to put an end to the men’s senseless fighting, Lysistrata gathers the women of both nations to take an oath of abstinence from their husbands and lovers until they agree to negotiate peace. The result is a feverish battle of the sexes laden with sexual innuendos, social and political satire, and plenty of erections.
Wedged into a small courtyard between buildings, the setting of the production was informal. The audience congregated in a semi-circle on the edge of the quad’s pathway while passersby caught glimpses of the lively comedic performance. The “stage” was a crater-like area next to Wetmore Hall, flanked by two stone staircases on either side that served as makeshift balconies for the performers. The cast maximized the space to its utmost potential, arriving and departing from beyond the audience and taking advantage of the stone staircases to create various levels. In spite of its confined location, the venue was laid-back and inviting, creating an intimate space for both the audience and performers.
The production itself was simplistic, yet beautiful. The cast relied little on props and set pieces to aid their performance. They wore modern clothing with a classical flare and their props were sparse and minimalistic. The use of simplicity was a definite strength for the performance, as it built on the play’s foundation of humour. In the opening scene, Lysistrata insisted that the women seal their oath of abstinence with the gutting of a sacrificial animal. The “animal” in question was a Jackson-Triggs box with a dangling bag of red wine hanging from its open flaps. The bag was snipped with a pair of scissors, releasing the “blood” into a bowl that the women then drank to seal their oath. Naturally, this got a laugh.
In terms of content, Lysistrata is no exception to Aristophanes’ satirical interest in social and political affairs, containing all the innuendos and suggestive criticism typical to his work. The play takes serious issues of war and traditional male dominance and uses them for lighthearted mockery.
Lysistrata’s desire to end combat through the withholding of sex trivializes the corruptness of war and reduces it to a farce. Through this comedic interpretation, Aristophanes portrays war as a band of lusty men who fight for insignificant reasons and ultimately inconvenience all the hard-working women left at home to keep up their domain. Is he wrong?
While Lysistrata is generally open-ended in its interpretation, there’s no denying that the play promotes female power through the autonomous hero Lysistrata. The heroine is the strongest character in the play, as she proposes a solution to the war and oversees its progress to the end. While the men (and occasionally women) struggle in their resolve, Lysistrata demonstrates unwavering willpower. Aristophanes was evidently centuries ahead of his time, as he mocks the tradition of male dominance with the portrayal of such a valiant female hero. Chiu gave a compelling performance in her role as the powerful heroine. She spoke with confidence and projected her presence into the crowd.
Beyond its serious subject matter, Lysistrata is refreshingly humorous in that it addresses universal issues such as war and sexuality with unfaltering vulgarity. The WINDS performance went all-out in its portrayal of the phallic humour this play requires. To emphasize the men’s insatiable arousal, they were seen walking around on stage, obviously suffering, with large strap-on erections. The demonstration was admittedly ridiculous, although it offered the characters an endless repository of erectile puns.
Lysistrata offers the perfect blend of humour and controversy. If you enjoy a good laugh, strong female characters, and an abundance of sexual innuendos, this play is worth your while.