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[whitespace] Gender Wars

City Lights' production of 'Lysistrata' relies too much on slapstick

By Heather Zimmerman

ARISTOPHANES' FAMOUS COMEDY Lysistrata could have inspired the phrase "all's fair in love and war," although for this version of the play, a more appropriate take on the saying might be "all's fair in war and shtupping." City Lights Theater Company presents an abridged, slapstick version of the ancient Greek play, translated by Donald Sutherland. Though this play proves that sex and politics have always been the most likely of bedfellows, the title character doesn't take the traditional approach to them: she leads the women of the Greek city states in withholding sex from their husbands until they make a pact for peace.

Coerced celibacy may be no laughing matter for the menfolk of this play, but the women have a grand old time seizing power--they take over the Acropolis (significantly a shrine to Athena, the goddess of both war and wisdom), capture the treasury and take a few turns humiliating the men. It's their "irreverence" that sets the slapstick tone. But even this kind of no-holds-barred comedy needs a disciplined sense of timing to work, and director Anne Marie Hunter lets the show run at too frantic a pace. The actors rush on to the next joke before the audience has a chance to laugh at the previous one.

Unfortunately, this production's biggest stumbling block is its central entity: the chorus. The chorus, divided into factions of young female vixens assaulting old, "impotent" males, seems intended to function as comic narrators, relaying anecdotes and acting out the gender war caused by Lysistrata's insurrection. But the breakneck pace garbles a lot of the dialogue, which is mostly chanted in unison, and the result is scant, unfocused comedy broken up by some puzzling non sequiturs, such as an impromptu rendition of "The Hustle."

However, the troubles of the chorus are not entirely the production's fault; Sutherland's translation leaves a lot to be desired (no pun intended). Although there's some inspired use of double entendre, generally the play's language is a jumble of awkwardly formal sentence structure and modern slang, punished with some strained rhyme schemes. The play does have some truly fun moments--an extended sight gag that puts Viagra to shame, for example, is pulled off with aplomb. And Lauri Smith as Lysistrata brings a real sense of intelligence and empowerment to the role; the play could have used more of such a character. There's always room for silliness at the expense of sex, but in its too-self-conscious locker-room jokiness, this production, like the men it spoofs, ultimately loses sight of something Lysistrata herself asserts, even as she encourages the women to titillate the men--the fact that women have power far beyond their feminine allure.

'Lysistrata' plays Thursday-Sunday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm at the City Lights Theater Company, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $15 Thursday and Sunday, and $18 Friday-Saturday. (408.295.4200)

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From the October 7-13, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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