2,400 Years Later, Greek Vixen Lysistrata Rides Again, This Time on the Basketball Court





12-19-11

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News.

Lysistrata Jones
Walter Kerr Theater
219 W. 48th Street
New York, NY

2,400 years ago, Greek playwright Aristophanes wrote his classic play about the endless wars between men and women, Lysistrata.  In the comedy, Lysistrata convinces other women who are wives and lovers of soldiers on both sides of the long- standing and fractious Peloponnesian War to withhold sex from their men to get them to end the conflict.  The seemingly task soon gets complicated due to the complexities in the romantic relationships of the couples.

The sexual Lysistrata strategy has been employed several times in history by women eager to end conflicts of some kind.  In 2006, the wives of gangsters in Colombia withheld sex to stop a cartel war.  That same year, women in Kenya married to political figures withheld sex to gain political goals.  Just this year, in the Philippines, in a well-publicized crusade, women on both sides of a civil war withheld sex and succeeded in ending the strife.

On Broadway, lithesome Lysistrata Jones, a bombastic blonde bombshell cheerleader, does the same thing in basketball.  She’s a student at Athens University, whose basketball team has lost 33 straight games.  She tells the cheerleaders that if they all refuse to “give it up” to the members of the team, the players, sexually motivated, will win games.  The cheerleader was named Lysistrata after the woman in Aristophanes play by her parents, both theater lovers.  She knows the Lysistrata story and thinks it will work just as well on the basketball court as it did in the battlefields around Athens centuries ago.  After all, Aristophanes must have had a decent hook shot, right?

Her “just say no” is an over the top plea in an over-the-top, highly engaging and very satisfying musical comedy that just opened.  The play is a great success even if the basketball team in it is dreadful.

The plot of the play is simple in the beginning—no victory, no sex.  It gets complex, though, as the girls are unable to convince the boys they can win and then, later, when each relationship is shattered by the sexual pressure. This is not a simple, one joke show (oh, speaking of jokes, watch for the joke about Newt Gingrich.  Liberals will howl and conservatives will cringe).  Book writer Douglas Carter Beane and lyricist Lewis Flinn, aided by director Dan Knechtges, did a fine job of carefully building up personal conflicts and sexual scuffles that, in the second act, turn Lysistrata Jones into a finely tuned play and not just a sex comedy.

The star of the show is the dazzling, lovable Patti Murin as Lysistrata.  Whether she is prancing about the stage in her cheerleader costumes or belting out one of the rousing songs, she is the centerpiece of the show.  Running a close second is Liz Mikel as Hetaira, a luscious and delectable toga-clad madam in the play.  They are joined by a talented cast that includes Alex Aguilar, Ato Wood, Katie Boren, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Kat Nejat, Josh Segarra, LaQuet Sharnell, Jason Tam, Teddy Toye and Alex Wyse.

All of them work well as an ensemble.  All are fine actors and singers.  Each, though, has special talents that make their character special.

The stage is set up like a basketball court in a gym.  The set, with movable lockers, designed by Allen Moyer, is one of the most unique on Broadway.  You can’t sit in the audience and watch this play and wonder when the local NBA team is going to take the floor.

The show is not without problems.  First, at two and a half hours, it is twenty minutes or so too long.  There are a half dozen songs in the play that sound the same; some could be cut.  Overall, the music is boisterous, highlighted by Jones’ Where Am I Now.

Still, all of that is of little note in this fast-break winner of a show.  What is so interesting about the musical is that the writers and composers took a rather scandalous 2,400-year-old play about the eternal battle of the sexes and turned it into a very successful contemporary show.  You would think that the basketball players at Athens U. and the warriors in the Peloponnesian Wars, who clashed throughout Greece, swords slashing and chariots racing, did not have that much in common.  Or do they?  They all enjoy a good fight. They all love women. None understand women.  Nothing has changed.

Anyone who sees the play will wonder about the Peloponnesian War.  The conflict pitted the city-state of Athens against the city-state of Sparta and its allies.  The war dragged on for 27 long years. Cities were destroyed, thousands killed and massacres committed by both sides.  Sparta won the war, reduced Athens to a weak state and changed the course of Greek history.  At one point, Athens sent a large army to fight in Sicily and the entire force was destroyed, sending political shock waves throughout Greece.  The war was a bloodbath.  Why was it fought and why did it take so long?  The playwright should have added some history of the war, and Greece in 411 BC.  It would have brought the ancient legend of Lysistrata to life and better connected the kids at Athens U. and the old time Greek warriors (who did not have cell phones).

At the end of the play, the boys from Athens must defeat the Syracuse University team to win back the love of their women, who have promised to “give it up.”

Will they?

Wait a minute. Syracuse? Syracuse University is my alma mater.  Hey, nobody beats Syracuse.

Go Orange! Beat Athens!

PRODUCTION: Produced by Paula Herold, Alan Wasser, Joseph Smith, Michael McCabe, others. Set: Allen Moyer, Costumes: David C. Woolard & Thomas Charles LeGalley, Lighting: Michael Gottlieb, Sound: Tony Meola. The play was directed by Dan Knechtges.

Bruce Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.



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