Intiman’s naughty production of “Lysistrata” chose an intriguing premise: it is staged as a play-within-a-play set at a military base in Afghanistan. The actors are playing U.S. soldiers putting on a show for their fellow troops, the audience.
“Lysistrata” is an ancient Greek comedy about how the titular character decides to rally the women of Greece together and protest the Peloponnesian War that has been claiming the lives of their men. The women of both sides of the battlefield decide to go on a sex strike until peace is made. You can see why Director Sheila Daniels wanted to make an Afghanistan parallel, it is a clever connection to draw.
The Greek play is filled with silly fun and enough yonic and phallic humor to last a lifetime. Shontina “Tina” Vernon (also playing a role in Intiman’s Trouble in Mind) as “Lysistrata” is gripping and a joy to watch. Kamaria Hallums-Harris as the undulating “Myrrhine” is sassy and beautiful with enough ‘tude for the entire Spartan Army. Again hats must go off to Jennifer Zeyl’s genius set design. There are plenty of gut laughs to be had with an endless volley of raunchy zingers flying back and forth between the sexes.
Despite plenty of snicker-worthy moments, the production as a whole felt a little haphazard. The costumes are bulky and seem cumbersome to the actors (with the pay-off not coming until the eleventh hour of the show). It’s possible that the intention was to show that these are costumes that soldiers might have used if they were putting on a play. Inserted into the action are various pop songs sung karaoke-style by the cast. The song choices aren’t exactly a match for what’s going on in the story, so unfortunately it does give off the impression that a soldier just wanted to plug in his or her favorite song for fun.
The director intended to make “Lysistrata” relevant to modern audiences by putting it beside the war in Afghanistan, but the play is also heavily about male/female power struggles and a major opportunity was missed to make this connection to modern times. For example, when a woman brings up the possibility of being “taken by force” by their husbands should they go on with the strike, this very real concern is brushed aside as a nonissue. This chilling point about rape in the military, an extraordinary problem for servicewomen today (according to a 2011 report, a female solider is more likely to be sexually assaulted by a fellow solider than killed in combat), went completely unaddressed. Considering the choice to have female soldiers speak these words, it is a shame that this opportunity was missed. Additionally, the ending is a little heavy-handed–with such broad comedy schlapping the audience upside the head for most of the show, a subtler message about the horrors of war would have been more poignant.
A theatre pass for all four productions in Intiman’s Summer Festival is $70, otherwise single tickets start at $20. The Festival ends on September 15th.