Kudos to the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble for creating and mounting an energetic, updated adaptation of Aristophanes’ classic antiwar comedy, Lysistrata - called The Naked Army, at the Powerhouse Theatre. Credit for writing and directing goes to Matthew James Weedman, who developed the piece in collaboration with the Company. At times reminiscent of a Code Pink rally, and at times a free-for-all of clowning dick jokes, this combination of heartfelt sentiment, sexiness, and bawdiness has a lot to offer.
The opening scenes are attention grabbers, as are all the many scenes of great choreography and music. Lysistrata, played with aplomb by Anne Yatco leads the women in lovely and ancient sounding chants, accompanying themselves with large staffs, which serve to underline their power and give percussion to their song. A great beginning. This is soon followed by another energetic display by the men, with funny comic actor Jim Sudik leading the action and the jokes, as they swing and jump around in a great show of testosterone.
A little later in the action, the feminist in me enjoyed watching the women overpowering the men. Much credit needs to be given to choreographer and music director Elissa Weinzimmer. Without the dynamic music and fun clowning and prancing, this show would be less than half of what it is.
Most of the show moves along happily, thanks to the song and movement, and also comic and acting prowess of some very strong performances. Besides Yatco’s Lysistrata who has the necessary power and charisma to pull off the great role, Cassadie Peterson as the Spartan gal Lampito is memorable and fun, as is Anastasia Barnes as the feisty Myrrhine, and Alison Ramirez as the soulful Einene. None of the men come close to Sudik’s skillful performance, Sudik and his wife Dee Amerio Sudik have a very funny bit of two oldsters attempting to get it on like youngsters. Nathan Dean Snyder is hilarious as Kinesias with a hard-on.
Some of the serious scenes are more difficult for the troupe. Keeping the energy up to the comic and hyjinks level is a challenge. There is one very touching scene where the women personalize their reasons for being anti war and Ramirez especially brings it home. This is where you can see that the company, as Weedman says “worked together to explore the idea of war.” This, together with some updated references, does serve to make the audience pause and reflect on the serious topic at hand.
However other long talky scenes, in particular with the introduction of the Magistrate (played by the droll Sol Mason), take a tumble from high Greek comedy energy to film acting level, good in film but here a disappointment. In Aristophanes’ original these scenes are long-winded too, and maybe a little cutting and spicing is called for. A few other talky scenes tend to become a bit preachy. If the repetitions are cut, and a few members of the ensemble embolden their voices and actions. The Naked Army is very close to being an outstanding production.
Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.
Photos courtesy Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble
The Naked Army, written and directed by Matthew James Weedman
June 16 - July 2, 2011, Thursdays - Saturdays at 8pm
All tickets $20
Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the
The Powerhouse Theatre
3116 2nd St.
Santa Monica, CA
www.latensemble.com (online tickets and info)