BWW Review: Quill Theatre's LYSISTRATA: Possibly the Hottest Ticket in Town for Obvious (and Perhaps Some Not-So-Obvious) Reasons
*Review by Brent Deekens
While little is known of the life of Aristophanes, the playwright of LYSISTRATA and the "Father of Comedy," his affection for an older counterpart, Aeschylus, was understandable and also evident (Aristophanes made Aeschylus a character in THE FROGS). Yet Aeschylus was known as the "Father of Tragedy." Though ultimately unknowable, perhaps it wasn't Aeschylus' dramatic works alone that helped inspire Aristophanes. Maybe the circumstances surrounding Aeschylus' untimely and flat-out wacky death made Aristophanes ruminate over the emotional vagaries in associating humor with tragedy. (Seriously, Google: "Aeschylus, Eagle, Turtle, Valerius Maximus")
Because it is tragedy itself that propels the women of Greece into action - or in this case, inaction - with hilarious consequences in Quill Theatre's delightful new telling of LYSISTRATA.
Wonderfully adapted by director James Ricks, the women of Athens and Sparta agree to abstain from copulating with their war-hungry men in return for a peace accord between the bickering city-states. The women, led by Grey Garrett's LYSISTRATA in a superb and commendably sympathetic performance, toy and tease their male compeers into increasing states of hormonal exasperation (to the point where the men no less don some very, very tumescent costume accessories).
The cast itself cannot be given enough credit - every one of them is in their element.
The incomparable Maggie Bavolack (Kleonike) is given the funniest one-liners in the play, and she zings every one of them with deft aplomb. Rachel Rose Gilmour is delightful as Myrrhine, especially with her scene alongside her husband Kinesias (a hysterically frenzied AdrIan Grantz). The towering appearances of Christian Rennie and CJ Bergin are stirring and riotous. Michael Hawke (Lead Male Chorus) and Melissa Johnston Price (Lead Female Chorus) are as commanding as ever; their poetic odes are articulated with boisterous ease. The statuesque Addie Barnhart is terrifically boorish as the Spartan woman Lampito. The always endearing and elegant Katherine S. Wright makes the most of her various character roles, flanked with equal parts equanimity and goofiness by an effective Amanda Durst. Jeff Clevenger (who also constructed the simple but stately set) gives one of his peerless performances, yet again. And Terrie Elam's confidence and poise as the symbol of Peace was a laudable asset during the reconciliatory negotiations.
This cast moves this piece along so swiftly that I wish the show was longer; there is never a loitering moment. And it's indeterminate as to which feuding branch is funnier - the women for their scintillating means of manipulation, or the men for giving the audience a palatable sense of "epichairekakia" (the Greek equivalent to "schadenfraude").
Bonus elements include rich verses-in-song provided by Music Director Amy Hruska, and subtle moments of dance choreographed by Dr. E. Gaynell Sherrod.
Some of the subtle changes to the story may not be to the liking of some literary or scholarly purists, but I felt that it aided to the fluid nature of the original play's ironic and self-actualizing intent.
There is coarse language and mild nudity, but the use of both is not overly-excessive.
At most, the audience will take away two things from this production: that this was an exciting piece with one of the most harmonious ensembles that Richmond has put together in more recent memory, and that it will rekindle a love for the classics, specifically Aristophanes. It will also beg the question:
"As risqué as this show got, how far did they actually go in Ancient Greece?"