Proclaiming itself A Lysistrata—not the Lysistrata you think you know—act2studioWORKS offers up a raunchy, Monty Python-esque new adaptation of Aristophanes’ classic comedy. The key story beats are maintained: Lysistrata unites the women of Athens and Sparta in a sex strike to force their husbands to end the Peloponnesian War. This version, aware of itself as a construct, feels politically relevant, weaving in contemporary references to place its ideas in a current context.
Written and performed by members of the act2studioWORKS company, this reworking has all the bawdy humour of the original. In director Nicole Wilson’s bright and colourful production, giant peaches and eggplants adorn the stage as grotesque, delightfully unsubtle stand-ins for genitalia. The eating of comically suggestive fruits and vegetables is a recurring spectacle. The protruding pool noodles representing the painfully engorged penises of frustrated men is a hilarious highlight.
The defining aspect of this production is its cast of older actors. Rarely do we get the opportunity to see a large ensemble of 50-plus performers engaging in risqué, facetiously provocative shenanigans. It’s undeniably fresh and exhilarating. Equally thrilling is the compelling way this troupe’s antics are in direct conversation with the original text.
Though so much of play functions as over-the-top, giddy farce; it opens with a tonally jarring bit of domestic melodrama as Lysistrata (Lydia Kiselyk) defies her soldier husband Lycon (Robert McNeely). My favourite scene, and pivotal to the urgency of this adaptation, is a debate between Lysistrata and the leader of the warrior women, Ursula (Jan Boase). She challenges Lysistrata’s quest for mere peace, positing the idea that a complete seizing of power from the men is a more useful goal.
Ursula is, arguably, the thematic pole star of this version. And Boase’s performance has really stuck with me. Though she seems at first to be giving us a brash and bullying caricature of an army drill sergeant, the intelligence and commitment to radical systemic change reverberates deeper than her brutish persona.
Kiselyk’s Lysistrata is a portrait of elegance and stoic determination. I was particularly tickled by Leslie Rennie who, in her saucy portrayal of Lysistrata’s best friend Calonice, seems to be channeling Mae West. Aristophanes himself (Annie Massey) is our narrator here—manifesting as a gender-fluid dominatrix, dressed in leather and sporting a whip. She interjects with commentary on the action and our presence as spectators to it, though I think there is a great missed opportunity here for more direct, dynamic immersion in the action.
A Lysistrata is certainly rough around the edges, lacking the consistent veneer afforded to productions with more extensive resources, yet it achieves a compelling narrative urgency, genuine entertainment value and a palpable sense of sincere subversion.