Eleni Kastani, Lydia Koniordou,and Antonis Loudaros in Lysistrata(Photo © Delta Studio)
Eleni Kastani, Lydia Koniordou,
and Antonis Loudaros in Lysistrata
(Photo © Delta Studio)
This is and isn't an ideal time for Aristophanes' Lysistrata to be unleashed on an audience. On the one hand, we're inhabiting a period when American women are going to war themselves and not holding out on sex in order to make their husbands swear off going to war. When someone like the grinning, thumbs-up Lynddie English preempts headlines, the title character of Lysistrata is somewhat out of synch with the moment.

On the other hand, many countries -- not just our own -- are at war. At such a juncture, Aristophanes' anti-war play, which was written when Athenians were plum tuckered from the Peloponnesian Wars, remains current. (This begs the query: Can anyone name an era in the last 2500 years during which Lysistrata wouldn't have been sadly pertinent?) Also on the other hand is the boisterous National Theater of Greece production of Lysistrata. It begins with a high-decibel boom that could pass for the kind of detonating WMD we've just learned could never have been located in Iraq in 2003.

That sinister boom isn't followed up with anything quite so disturbing. Instead, the large troupe, directed with unflagging energy by Kostas Tsianos, leads an out-and-out cheerful paean to sexual shenanigans. The 90-minute treatment isn't so much an example of developing classical theater conventions as an example of developing burlesque conventions. From the traditional kick-off parade honoring the potency of the phallus, this Lysistrata acknowledges the animal impulses rampant in supposedly civilizing humanity, also unchanged after a couple millennia -- although maybe there is a difference. When the opening chorus praises Bacchus for inciting the "hard-on," it might occur to today's commercial-dunned citizen that Bacchus as the aphrodisia god has been replaced in the modern age by the gods Viagra and Cialis.

Everything in this production is engineered to be bright and broad. Rena Georgiadou's costumes include padding for just about everyone in the cast who isn't already naturally padded. Cleavage front and back is a fashion "do," high necklines a fashion "don't." It's as if Peter Paul Rubens and Fernando Botero had collaborated on a vision of comic voluptuousness. The women (there are 13 in the women's chorus) are so bosom-y and buttock-y in their swinging skirts that they look like so many grape clusters on a ripe vine. The men (there are 16 in the men's chorus) are outfitted like the dwarves that Snow White might have met had she checked out the rest of the neighborhood. When these goofballs remove their shirts to entice the women, they reveal sallow body-suit chests and pendulous bellies.

A number of the men, arriving in traditional dress from the front lines, show evidence of their mounting (pun intended) randiness by way of yard-long poles strapped underneath the drapery. These multiple sight gags amount to low humor, yes, but it should be remembered that a good part of Aristophanes' genius was his ability to mix the subtle with the blatant. (Abe Minsky and family may never have improved on the 2411 B. C. model but they sure had a helluva fun time perpetuating the tradition.) Georgiadou's set is more muted than her colorful wardrobe: it's an upstage fortress of wooden rails from which rises the two-dimensional image of a warrior who's pulchritudinous in a fashion that none of the living buffoons are.

It may be helpful to remind the potential viewer that the play concerns hard-nosed Lysistrata (Lydia Koniordou) of Athens who convinces her Athenian and Spartan peers plus a few others that the way to keep their warrior hubbies around is by denying them connubial pleasures until they agree to forgo bellicose pursuits. Despite the ladies' longing to enjoy those pleasures themselves, they go through with the plan and also take control of the Acropolis and the treasury. While friends Cleonice (Eleni Kastani), Myrrhyine (Vasso Iatropoulou), and Lambito (Maria Kantife) lend support in varying ways, the bonded women foil menfolk Provoulos (Anonis Loudaros) and Cinesias (Nikos Karathanos) so thoroughly that the remainder of the fellas swear to practice war no more. Song of praise, curtain.

It doesn't take long for Lysistrata to work her wiles; but in director-translator Tsianos's and choroegrapher Fokas Evaggelinos's version, her wiles are the kind that trip the occasional belly laugh and promote the constant amused smile. Presiding over the festivities, Koniordou bounces across stage like a beach ball. Although her mission is sour, she's endearingly sweet about it. If she's on the anti-war path, it's a path strewn with rose petals; her arms are almost always raised, as if she's welcoming life itself to the party. (In a manner of speaking, she is.) Kastani, looking like a bon-bon escaped from the box, is another bundle of energy, and Iatropoulou takes stage like a spray of pheromones materialized. Kantife's Lambito from Lacedaemon is an Amazon-Valkyrie amalgam. Loudaros and Karathanos are cartoon characters sprung to perplexed life.

Berating the ladies for their hesitancy in joining her cause, Lysistrata exclaims, "Euripides is right to mock us in his tragedies." But this super-titled go at Aristophanes' Lysistrata would have made the corners of Euripides' stern mouth curve upward.