Brave, relevant, and hilarious: Lysistrata is a triumph at Bard on the Beach

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Lysistrata | Bard on the Beach | Howard Family Stage in the Douglas Campbell Theatre, Vanier Park | July 6 – September 13, 2018

As the cast runs around the stage making last-minute preparations, Christopher Gaze give his pre-show remarks and reads a statement from the acting company — due to their concern for the future of Vanier Park in the face of proposed new zoning bylaws, they have decided to highjack the theatre to stage a version of Lysistrata instead of the planned all-female production of Hamlet. They have no set and no costumes, and are completely unrehearsed he says.

The company occupies the stage to perform this ancient 2,400-year-old story by Aristophanes about a group of women who withhold sex from their husbands to protest a war. The concept is rendered hilarious by the exaggerations, innuendo, and creative costumes that used found objects such as cutlery, toilet rolls, plastic bottles, and bubble wrap. Not to mention the pool noodles standing erect to represent the sexual frustration of the Spartans and Athenian men.  

Colleen Wheeler as Hamlet runs across the stage to place a skull back on a pedestal. She is determined to perform as Hamlet despite the rest of the company agreeing to do Lysistrata. “This is Bard on the Beach, not Greek on the Beach!” she argues. The rest of the cast is right — if a play doesn’t have anything to say about the present, why perform it at all?

As the cast begins their impromptu play, Quelemia Sparrow introduces herself: “I’m from Musqueum, and this is my land. Makes yourselves at home. Oh, I guess you already did that.” She explains that Vanier Park was, not that long ago, a Coast Salish village called Sen’akw.Questions of land ownership, Indigenous rights, and activism all come to a head as two constables, one being Colleen’s (fictional) husband, come to arrest Adele Noronha for tagging the rezoning signs and the crab sculpture at the planetarium. They go through a good cop/bad cop routine before Colleen says, ““Ross, sit down or you’re on the couch tonight.” They join the audience and we again feel like we are again reminded that our presence is important to the action. Three audience members are later invited on stage to help scare away the men.

Along with the political messages and reminders of unceded territories, the show overflows with laughs. Lysistrata (Luisa Jojic) chastises her fellow Athenian women when they say they won’t agree to withholding sex: “You low-down bunch of sausage slaves!” Once she convinces them to sign an oath, they all recite it together, including important clauses such as, “Nor will I assume the position known as the lion and the cheese grater.”

Self-aware, relevant, brave, and hilarious, this is a triumphant show that occupies the stage and our minds. This is live theatre that reminds us why the medium is still relevant and why some stories need to be shared in a live venue as opposed to on a screen. At Lysistrata, the audience feels a part of the action and the action feels timely and applicable to our present society.

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