All-female “Lysistrata” will not withold laughs

“We do have something you want, it just never occurred to us that we have the choice to give it to you,” the title character of “Lysistrata” tells the Magistrate of Athens. Some may suggest that ancient theater is not relevant to us today, but as campuses around the nation grapple with how to handle the ethics of consent, lines like this could have been written yesterday.

The St. Olaf Muse Project hopes to open up important conversations with their production of the ancient Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” as the all-female theater group kicks off their 2016-2017 season. The show was originally written by Aristophanes and adapted by Ellen McLaughlin. For two nights, Nov. 4 and 5, audiences will have the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about gender and power, think about the importance of consent and laugh at a plethora of raunchy humor.

The St. Olaf Muse Project’s goal is to promote inclusive theater and raise up marginalized or undiscovered voices. Muse Project artistic director and director of “Lysistrata” Margaret Jacobson ’17 selected this play partly because of this.

“At the heart of it, it has a lot of messages – not just the very blatant one about war and peace,” Jacobson said. “There were commentaries that became clear about consent, and what it means to have women protesting in politics and how women in politics fall under so much more scrutiny than men in politics.”

“Lysistrata” tells the story of the Athenian woman Lysistrata, played by Lindsey Bertsch ’19, who has a “brilliant plan” to end the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta: convince all the women of Greece to withhold sex from their husbands until peace is declared. Naturally, the men of Athens are not a fan of this plan, and antics ensue.

The main character herself is subject to many of the commentaries Jacobson mentioned, and audiences should not miss seeing her in action.

“I think this retelling especially makes it pretty obvious that she definitely has a lot of her own personal interests in mind with this – ‘I want war to end, but I want the legacy to be the person that did this,’” Bertsch said of Lysistrata. “And we played around with the differences with Lysistrata when she’s around women as to when she’s around men. With women there’s this idea that someone has to be more masculine, whereas with men it’s more manipulation. She stands up for a good cause, but she’s pretty prideful about it.”

Indeed, it’s difficult to know what to make of a character whose opening line is, “I hate women.” Is she a feminist hero who ended war, or merely self-serving? Jacqueline Radke ’18 portrays the play’s antagonist, the Magistrate of Athens, and echoes this question.

“She’s a female lead, but the character is kind of a terrible female lead. The whole time she’s complaining about women,” Radke said.

While Lysistrata is a complicated character who is fun to analyze, and the text brings up many important and relevant discussions, we can’t forget that this play is meant to be funny. Therefore, we have to talk about the comic relief. Lysistrata is up against characters who range from “an epitome of the patriarchy” (as Radke characterizes the Magistrate) to simply buffoons, such as Kinesias (Holly Ness ’19), a soldier returning home from the war and hungry for sex with his wife Myrrhine (Catherine Stookey ’18). A large part of the play’s humor stems from these male figures. For example, audiences are sure to enjoy one particular scene in which Kinesias returns home from the war.

“He is so driven by his own desires that he is blind to everything else, and he is so dependent on his wife that he has trouble even just doing basic things, because he is very disoriented and doesn’t really know what’s happening,” Ness said regarding Kinesias. “Aristophanes is making fun of his own sex through this character who is just being pushed around through the show.”

Overall, cast members consider Lysistrata a powerful yet fun way to discuss important topics. Jacobson’s direction really plays up the comedy of the show, and one should expect a night full of laughs. The cast uses the Art Barn’s balcony and their close proximity to the audience well, there is plenty of physical comedy and the script is witty and full of sexual humor, typical of an Aristophanes play.

“There are so many innuendos, so many sex jokes. It’s so great,” Stookey said. “I’m sure they’re also present in the original text, but in this one it’s probably more obvious. That’s fun, and it’s going to be fun getting a lot of laughs for all the shenanigans.”

Make plans to come to the Art Barn and catch the Muse Project’s staging of “Lysistrata” on Nov. 4 or 5 to laugh the night away and think about the more serious topics the show comments on. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and the show starts at 8:00 p.m. Admission is free and there will be live music and free food, so be sure to arrive early. Note that this show contains adult content, and children under the age of 16 will not be allowed inside.