Lysistrata

Lysistrata“, a modern adaptation of a Greek Comedy by Aristophanes, where the women take charge, tired of losing theirlysistrata_photo children and husbands to war, and freeze both the treasury and their husband’s and boyfriend’s accessibility to them, until they, the men, sign the treaty to end the war. Now there’s a concept!!
For more see Synopsis and Director’s Notes… Proceeds from the benefit will go to several concerns: CodePink, Vets for Peace, Farms Not Arms.

Aristophanes

… lived c. 448 – c. 380 BC

… wrote all the extant comedies of the fifth century B.C.E. On his shoulders alone rests the reputation of an entire age of comedy, called “Old Comedy”. He had successful rivals, but none of their plays survived.
… was the greatest comic writer of his day (by most accounts).
… bears a resemblance to the comedy parts of Shakespeare. The spirit of their times is in them. There is the same tremendous energy, verve and vitality; the same swinging, swashbuckling spirit; the same exuberant, effervescing flow of language; the same rollicking, uproarious fun. There is a connection between the sublime and the ridiculous. Aristophanes’ comedy, and pre-eminently Shakespeare’s comedy, and theirs alone, have a kinship with tragedy.
… began to write when Greek drama had reached its summit and was nearing its decline. Democracy had already begun to sour for the Athenians. The people were increasingly demoralized by the ongoing conflicts of the Peloponnesian War and the loss of their greatest hero, Pericles. Pericles had been taken from them and replaced by unscrupulous politicians such as Cleon and Hyperbolus.

… has eleven surviving plays which clearly depict the genre of “Old Comedy”:

  • Acharnians, the world’s first anti-war comedy, was the first surviving play of his War and Peace Series (425 BCE)
  • The Knights, The Clouds, The Wasps (comedies)
  • Peace, the second comedy of his War and Peace series (421 BCE)
  • The Birds, a fairly well known comedy (414 BCE)
  • Lysistrata, the last of his War and Peace Series (411 BCE)
  • The Thesmophoriazusae (411) and The Frogs (405 BCE)
  • The Ecclesiazusae, written 19 years after earlier political plays (390 BCE)
  • Plutus (388 BCE) By this time it had become far too dangerous to launch a direct attack on state policies. Athens had long since been crushed by the Spartans and its liberties had decreased significantly. (As a matter of reference, it was during this turbulent period that Socrates was put to death.)

… plays had but three actors. A chorus divided the action by song and dance (there was no curtain) and often took part in the dialogue. About halfway through, the chorus made a long address to the audience, which aired the author’s opinions and often had nothing to do with the play. The scenes followed, more or less connected.

… plays ridiculed everything and everyone – the gods came in for their share; so did the institutions dearest to the Athenians; so did the most popular and powerful individuals, often by name. The freedom of speech is staggering to our ideas.

LYSISTRATA

A modern adaptation, by Starr Hergenrather, of the original Greek play written by Aristophanes in 411 BCE. Lysistrata was the third and last of Aristophanes’ series of anti-war plays.

SYNOPSIS

It is now 411 BCE, the twenty-first year of the Peloponnesian Wars, with little prospect of peace. The women of Athens, led by Lysistrata and supported by female delegates from the other states of Hellas (Greece), are tired of losing their sons and husbands on the battlefields and are determined to take matters into their own hands and force the men to stop the War. They meet in solemn conclave, and Lysistrata shares her plan — the application of a rigorous, self-denying ordinance to husbands and lovers —“we must refrain from men altogether.”

Every wife and woman is to abstain from men’s affections, till the men have come to terms of peace. By these means Lysistrata assures the women that they will very soon achieve their goal. “If we sit indoors prettily dressed in our best silks and alluring fashions, all nicely decked out, they will be able to deny us nothing.”

After much discussion, this plan is adopted, and the assembled women take a solemn oath to observe the compact faithfully. In the meantime, as a precautionary measure, the Chorus of older women of Athens seize the Acropolis, where the State treasure is kept. The Chorus of old men of the city assault the doors, but are repulsed by the terrible regiment of women. Much excellent fooling around between the two hostile bands ensues in the fight for possession of the citadel.

In the meantime, Lysistrata wards off a mutiny from a small faction of frustrated women by impressing upon them the importance of their conviction. Cineasias, Calonice’s husband, arrives and tries to convince her that she needs to come home. Lysistrata reminds Calonice of her oath, but encourages her to entice her husband. Cinesias finds his efforts thwarted.

A Herald from Sparta arrives to announce that the Spartans are ready to declare peace because they “miss their wives”. He is to go back and tell the delegation that they need to gather at the Acropolis to sign the treaty.

Lysistrata accepts the men’s declaration to make peace, but not without seizing the opportunity to school them a little. Peace is then concluded, and the play ends with Athenian and Spartan festivities celebrating the event, the Chorus commenting on what has gone down, and the execution of an excellent dance.

“It’s All Greek to Me”

(a.k.a. Director’s Notes)

I’ve wanted to do Lysistrata for awhile, but I knew it would require adapting for high school, being one of Aristophanes’ more burlesque/desperate solutions to desperate times in ancient Greece. So, as our Iraq War continues, along with the squandering of our national treasury, and the sorrowful loss of life and limb by our young men and women, the times feel desperate to me as I watch our children graduate off to war, and an adaptation became my summer project.

Written twenty-one years into the Peloponnesian War in Greece, there seemed as little prospect for peace as ever. Aristophanes offered up a burlesque solution for the difficulty (desperate times require a desperate remedy). It is little wonder, therefore, that Aristophanes laughter is tinged, even from the beginning, with tones of apprehension and grief, which can be heard in the voice of Lysistrata, our heroine who leads the revolt. She is one of Aristophanes’ most completely realized characters. Although the play is light-hearted, it was written out of the poet’s grief over the thousands of Athenians who had recently lost their lives in the terrible defeat at Syracuse.

We have had too much fun putting this play together. Like Aristophanes’ off-the-wall suggested solution to the problem, this production is pretty off-the-wall. It truly has been a work in progress, a full-on team effort, with the actors and crew throwing in their two drachmas worth to make what we have to present to you.

I hope this production, even through its fantastical suggestion (or is it??), will resonate with you, stimulate some discussion and thoughtful debate concerning our current state of affairs, and galvanize you to speak up or take action. I find many parallels between Aristophanes’ time and ours. And like Aristophanes, I, too, feel frustrated with our “leaders” and saddened by the numbers of people’s lives that are so directly affected by our political policies. Oh, and incidentally, Lysistrata literally means “loosening the army”. Yeah, like loosen them right on home….cuz, ya’ know, war…well….what is it good for? Absolutely nothing! It’s not about who’s right but who’s left. And that’s why it’s all Greek to me.

In peace,

Starr