Loosely Lysistrata: The Good, The Bad, the Off-Key

 
I have always been a huge fan of the play that is actually a show. A show has singing and dancing and broad humor that makes me laugh out loud. Performances that are true yet larger than life. Performance spaces that include the aisles and seats beyond the proscenium or thrust stage. I enjoy the unspoken wink between actor and audience because not only is it a nod to being current, but also a respectful spotlight on themes and ideas that are universal and timeless. Write Act Repertory’s season opener, Loosely Lysistrata, is all the above, some times to its detriment, but more often to its success.

 

Based on the 1987 gay graphic novel by Ralph Koenig (which was based on ideas from Lysistrata, the 441 play by Aristophanes), writer Stewart Zuckerbrod has flipped the script to give us a very racy, very irreverent retelling. The play is the story of Lysistrata (Kate Van de Goor), an Athenian Socialite and how she rallied with women of Athens to withhold sex from their warring husbands until the fighting stopped. Buxom Spartan Lampito (Jenn Scuderi) has convinced the women of Sparta to go along with the abstinence campaign as well. This leaves the men of Greece in a lurch, not to mention in a state of permanent erection, because self-gratification is believed to be guaranteed damnation to Hades.

I suspect the Koenig influence comes in with the introduction of the Gay perspective in the situation. The women have all retreated to the Acropolis, leaving their men with visible boners. Any man without one is effectively outted as Gay, unless he fashions a falsie for himself from a large cooking utensil. And while pride is abundant at Club Adonis, to be out is quite possibly a death sentence in Ancient Greece.

 

Enter Hepatitos (Wil Bowers), reigning Drag Queen of Athens. With the entire world having become a land of fallacies, he gets an idea. By blackmailing the closeted general of the Athenian army, Incognito (Luke Dilberto), Hep finagles a way to address the Athenian Army where he – posing as a doctor - institutes a medical state of “Emergency Homosexuality” as the only solution to the crisis, lest after six weeks, semen sepsis will set: A condition inevitably followed by death. “For Athens!”, but with great reluctance, the soldiers turn to one another for “buddy relief”.

 

And it’s not half bad. The fear of turning Gay subsides. No longer weakened by blue balls, the men are able to fight the enemy again. The actual Gays of Athens are free to go after the beautiful straight boys they always wanted. And the women, still up in the Acropolis, are left wondering why Lysistrata’s brilliant plan has not yet stopped the war. And that’s when things get really interesting.

 

The Good

 

Wil Bowers lead this ensemble in the role Hepatitos, with the greatest of ease, and wearing heal the whole time! He moved from personae to the next, from one disguise to the next, belting out songwriter Charles Baker’s faux showtunes with a wit and timing and campy worthy of Harvey Fierstein. And he is a better singer to boot. His is the character who takes the Athenian women’s best laid plans and runs amuck with them. Bowers’ Hepatitos is divine, confident and conniving; everything you could ask for in a horny drag queen. Really well done!

 

I can’t say enough about this cast. I loved the energy. Every performance was great. From Susannah Myrvold’s domestically obsessed Myrrhine to Sunny Sandavol & Ducan Garrow’s turns as aging matron Botox and battle-battered Kinesias, not to mention their uncredited cameo appearances (You’ll have to go to see what I mean). The sexual tension between Scuderi & Van de Goor as power divas Lampito & Lysistrata was palpable. The whole twisted Oedipus Father and son storyline was just wrong and fabulous at the same time. George Powell as Oedipus and Dilberto as the ill-fated Father were hilarious, especially during the Sybil-esque chaos towards the end. I loved how spouses Glaukos (Gregory Crafts) and Feta (Nicole Deutsch) moved from a place of sexual inflexibility to one of sexual openness and curiosity. Nik Wilcox’s Tartaros was the character that made the biggest transformation from hardcore hetero to effeminate, ultra sensitive, “buddy relief enthusiast”. Wilcox playing the Gay stereotype to the tilt, but pulling back just shy of crossing the line into caricature. He was a lot of fun, particularly in his scenes with Hoplos (Jack Bennett), the Gay guy that was been pining for him. And finally, thank you oh spineless Liberatese (Boomie Agkietti) for the fabulous accompaniment to Hepatitos’ heartfelt ballad, “The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships.”

The women of Greece unite in abstience in Loosely Lysistrata

 

The Bad

 

Most of the men in the cast play multiple roles and towards the end, it gets s bit confusing which character he is playing. Minimal attention was given to the set design, although revolving flats and a smartly placed Murphy bed proved to be good choices. So while the stage was a perfectly functional space, any cohesive concept at play was lost on me. Wig and beards are an intentional afterthought, leaving the real work of creating discernable characters to the performers; it is a task they have well at hand.

 

Aside from the second act being a touch drawn-out, the only problem I had with this play was the pop culture overkill. In a comedic play about war, it is expected that phrases like weapons of mass destruction and national security were sprinkled through, perhaps a mirror that the more things change the more they stay the say. References to Grey’s Anatomy and McSteamy and McDreamy were also a cute and clever shout-out to what is now. Even the “And I Am telling you…” retort was good and funny. But somewhere in the second act, the pop culture pops got old, or maybe less clever. Maybe it was the infamous but antiquated Diff’rent Strokes quote that did me in. But at a certain point, I began to see what was coming and that was disappointing.

 

The Off-Key

 

I thoroughly enjoyed myself at Loosely Lysistrata. This production is for anyone who wants to have a great time and doesn’t take themselves too seriously. It pokes fun at everyone. It’s bawdy and entertaining with a few themes thrown into the mix. Maybe emergency homosexuality can bring world peace. Maybe we should stop and remember how conflicts got started so we can re-evaluation if it warrants continued military engagement. After all, making love, not war, is always a viable option.

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