Spotlighters Theatre in Baltimore kicked off its 57th season with Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy, “Lysistrata.” Directors Michael Blum and Darlene Harris give this production a relatively contemporary twist with a New York City backdrop and characters sporting attire from the late 1960s. However, the aesthetics merely make a superficial connection to America’s Vietnam and Cold War era, as the storyline squarely centers on the drawn-out conflict between Athens and Sparta.
This is a fantastic production put on by Spotlighters and too much fun to resist.
There is much to relish in this overtly tongue-in-cheek satire, which doesn’t hit you over the head with moral self-righteousness. Its message has transcended thousands of years because it pokes fun at how innately predictable we truly are as people. The world in this play is filled with dichotomies in its contrasting archetypal characters, the politicization of abstinence, and the time eras that sagaciously display how the subject matter is as relevant in modern times as it was in antiquity. This play truly demonstrates how two heads aren’t necessarily better than one, especially when it comes to the matter of sex. The perpetual banter between the men and women in this performance raised some eyebrows and presented profoundly humorous situations.
The lead character, an Athenian woman named Lysistrata (Amy Heller), proposes a brilliant plan for the women of Athens and the surrounding states to partake in ending the Peloponnesian war: Block the money supply that funds it and deny men sex until they find a resolution. The women are not particularly thrilled about this idea and need some convincing, which yields some outlandish and witty dialogue. Ultimately, the women agree to boycott sex until the men give in and end the war. What ensues is a series of tableaus of men beating their drums (figuratively and literally) and trying to use fire to drive the women out of the heisted bank. The men and women face off in a slapstick discourse that may mirror the stubbornness of the warring states themselves.
Much of the play’s comic bang involves a plethora of ways the women torment the men, which I admit is rather amusing. The Athenian women (Evangeline Ridgaway, Sharon Carter, Melissa McGinley and Kate Crosby) escalate the teasing and taunting narrative and all the men (Matt Mitchell, Jim Knost, John Covaleskie, Lincoln Goode) can do is squirm in their dismay, which is rather evident by the bulkiness in their pants. There’s no shortage of phallic puns and quit witted double-entendres, which are light-hearted in nature, but heavy in literal meaning.
The ensemble in this performance was charming in a neighborly kind of way. In spite of the play’s satirical reputation, it is immensely entertaining and clearly remains relevant since such things as war and sex never cease in the human experience. High marks for members of the creative team include costume supervisor Julia Golbey (the groovy 60s look was on the mark), lighting designer Al Ramer, and stage manager Darlene Harris (who wears several hats in this production) for ensuring the flow of the story avoided any meandering. The background artwork could have used a little more razzle-dazzle in 60s style, and the whole New York City theme seemed a little out of place as there were no mentions of modern aspects tied into the storyline, but I think I get the relevance of it (metaphorically, at least).
Broadly speaking, this performance is truly enjoyable and done in very good taste. Opening night was nearly a full house and there were as many cheers as there were chortles. I’m certain it had much to do with how much we can relate to the characters and the wanton implications. This is a fantastic production put on by Spotlighters and too much fun to resist.
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.
Advisory: Adult themes.
“Lysistrata” is playing now through October 12, 2018. For information and tickets ($24 for adults, $21 for students, military and seniors), please visit Spotlighters Theatre by clicking here.