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Stage Review: 'Lysistrata'

'Lysistrata' revels in bawdy excess

Saturday, November 14, 1998

By Christopher Rawson, Post-Gazette Drama Critic

Let's hear it for Bad Taste - irreverent, bawdy and excessive. Call it satire if you want to claim moral justification, but gleeful aggression and choking laughter are what's it really all about.

And in this case, also call it Classical, in the original sense, since this is "Lysistrata" the scatological anti-war comedy by Aristophanes (427-388 BC), the corrosive Larry Gel-bart/Howard Stern of classical Athens.

  Stage Review


WHERE: Point Park College Playhouse, Craft Avenue, Oakland.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 22.

TICKETS: $12-$14; 412-621-4445.


Expect no moral uplift. Whoever finds that deplorable is warned to avoid the strenuously comic "Lysistrata" whipped into a Bad Taste Extravaganza by adapter-director Kathryn Aronson and her energetic Point Park College cast.

Before a posse of the New Moralists plans vigilante action, it might help to point out that Aristophanes' politics are conservative. His targets are those follies of front-running, laziness and greed that offend traditional moralists. But his manner is so robustly vulgar that you might not note the mossback values beneath it all.

In "Lysistrata," the chief target of attack is war and the macho posturing that makes it endemic. The title character conceives a plan to get the women of all the warring Greek states to withhold sex from their men until they agree to peace.

Then we get to Act 2 and the famously engorged phalluses with which the pleading men demonstrate the success of the women's plan. Aronson and her costume designer, Diana Marongiu-Lutz, rise to this occasion with yard-long metallic structures that cause no end of funny discomfort.

To match Aristophanes' outrageous invention, Aronson and her designers set the play in the future, in a galaxy far, far away. The visual result is pretty much Flintstones meet Jetsons, full of sophomoric puns and allusions. The text has been treated with similar freedom, shot through with Pittsburgh references. The Spartans, gleaming in black and gold, are gleefully-drawn Picksburg Yinzers.

And double-entendres! Aronson and whoever did the uncredited translation add plenty to Aristophanes' copious supply. Who would have thought even textiles could be so bawdy?

Running commentary comes from competing choruses of geezers and geezerettes who battle with chant, insult and symbolic mooning (a rare failure of nerve). They do drag on a bit. With a theatrical mode that glorifies comic excess, you can run dry. The comedy is so heartily strenuous it sometimes flattens out. At just over two hours, it feels longer.

But these objections disappear in Act 2, highlighted by a struggle between Janelle Baker and the very funny Jeff Urquhart as a sex-starved couple. Also contending for the comic highlights reel is Andrew Valeri's absurd performance art piece, and Fayth Bailey's Athenian Mae West is a pretty fine piece of comic work, too. As Lysistrata, April Pile provides wiry focal intelligence.

Ultimately, "Lysistrata" is less about war than sexual hypocrisy, and less about either than theatrical invention and a saturnalia of dirty jokes. Men come out worse than women, but not much. Aristophanes would probably love it.

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