Sex is the word, in ancient Greece and today
“Lysistrata” may have been written by Aristophanes in Athens around 411 B.C., but the Department of Theatre Arts is bringing the comedy into the 21st century at Towson’s Mainstage Theatre. Directed by visiting artist Yury Urnov, this classic play opened to the public last night, Wednesday, March 5.
This pacifist play revolves around the story of a young woman who develops a plan to have all of the women abstain from sex until the men agree to stop the war.
“It’s one of the few plays from the past which still seems very funny and almost feels revolutionary. Even compared to the contemporary plays, it’s very brave,” Urnov said.
The text being used is actually a modern translation by scholar Sarah Ruden.
The translation allows the original ideas of the play to be captured while also making the language easier to understand.
“It’s written in modern language and the storyline, honestly, even though it was written long ago, is still very modern,” senior Elizabeth Scollan, who plays the role of Lysistrata said. “I think most people will be surprised by the subject matter, how easily it can relate to a modern audience.”
Urnov said that the play is aesthetically provocative on every level, with much of the conversation revolving around sex and politics.
“Overall we hope that it’s a freeing kind of experience, the kind of thing where people walk away feeling a little more comfortable with being upfront about sexuality,” Scollan said. “That’s what we mostly played with in the show, there are political aspects to it as well, but it’s just about kind of having fun with the idea of being comfortable in your own skin.”
Several elements went into making the play more modern, one of those being the re-working of the role of the chorus in the performance. Traditionally in Greek plays, the chorus is made up of many people speaking at once and commenting on the action occurring onstage.
“It would have taken a long time to do that the traditional way because our culture isn’t really used to that kind of thing, not a lot of people can speak at the same time, so we found a way to put a rhythm to it, like poetic language,” male chorus leader and musical director Raymond Lee said.
It took the first two weeks of rehearsals for Urnov and the cast to determine that the chorus’ lines would have to be rapped. He said that this decision gave the whole show a much stronger and contemporary feel.
“It’s very over-the-top and, being the musical director, I love having a chance to use music in the way it is used throughout the show,” Lee said. “It’s a very music-driven piece.”
The cast of the play is large, consisting of 36 members, making the group numbers more difficult to coordinate.
“When you get 36 people on stage at the same time it’s kind of chaotic, so I think the thing that was most impressive to me was seeing how the director and the movement coordinator created these stage pictures where you know what you are supposed to be looking at in the chaos,” Scollan said.
Naoko Maeshiba, movement coordinator for the play and associate professor in the Department of Theatre Arts, worked with the cast to visualize the piece as a whole.
“Visually, it’s gorgeous because of all of the episodes and the vignettes that we are posing in as groups throughout the piece,” senior and female chorus leader Nina Kauffman said.
“Lysistrata” will be performed nightly until March 13 with the exception of Monday, March 10.
“It’s a big show and a very short show at the same time. I am almost sure that it will not be boring at all and it won’t look like a historical play,” Urnov said.
But above all, Kauffman, Scollan and Lee hope that the audience gets the chance to laugh.
“It’s very entertaining in all ways, visually, orally, just everything,” Lee said. “It gives you the full package as far as spectacle is concerned.”