Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The winner is possibly the most famous, or perhaps I should say infamous, of all classical plays: the 2,400-year-old Lysistrata by the Greek writer Aristophanes.
The Vortex Theatre is currently bringing this celebrated comedy to the Albuquerque stage in a performance that highlights the fun and funniness that link 21st-century America to fifth-century B.C. Greece. The links are rather stunning.
Aristophanes wrote the play during the 27-year-long Peloponnesian Wars, an internecine conflict that permanently crippled the once-powerful Greek city states, paving the way for first Macedonia and then Rome to dominate the ancient world. The Vortex is re-staging Lysistrata: A Woman's Translation (first performed by the Vortex 10 years ago) to protest President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. Parallel to the three-episode Peloponnesian Wars, the 18-year-old American wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia, among other countries, developed in stages that have seemed endless and weakened U.S. leadership in the world.
The 14-person Vortex cast, led by Jen Stephenson as a forceful and dominant Lysistrata, takes on this hoary fixture of regional theater with elan and panache. Although their performances and the direction of Bridget S. Dunne are less polished than usual on this stage, their indomitable fun and enthusiasm save the day.
The Vortex refers to the text by Drue Robinson as both a "translation" and an "adaptation." However, in its contemporary language and references and some changes in the story line, it differs so much from other English versions of the play that "adaptation" seems to me the more accurate term. Robinson's version elicits lots of laughs from the audience by emphasizing the bawdiness and boisterousness of the story, as well as the sexual frustration of not only the men but also their women.
The plot is simple. A group of housewives are so fed up with wartime death and abandonment that they decide to do something about it. Their cabal is twofold: deprive the men of the gold to finance the war by seizing the treasury deposited in the Parthenon, and deprive their mates of the will to fight by depriving them of sex. The sexual aspect attains an additional dimension with the casting of males in some of the female chorus roles.
I don't think it is a spoiler to say that, at least on the stage, their conspiracy is a grand success. However, David Richard Jones comments in the program notes, "Both humility and truthfulness require us to note that neither the Peloponnesian War nor the US-Iraq war was stopped by the performance of a play. Was W. H. Auden right, when he said at the outbreak of World War II, 'poetry makes nothing happen'?"
Lysistrata is advertised as a feminist and pacifist play. But these terms need considerable qualification. At the end of the play, the newly empowered women don't seize the exclusively male government of Athens and Sparta, nor do they reform sexist Greek society; they return eagerly to their homemaker (and bedroom) duties. And there are several sentences in the original text that suggest the women's target is not all wars but only this one, because of its length and futility.
Lysistrata: A Woman's Translation, through March 3, 2019, at The Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle Blvd. NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For information and tickets, visit www.vortexabq.org or call 505-247-8600