While the company of Bard on the Beach’s latest foray into a contemporary adaptation does a marvelous job of bringing the Greek comedy Lysistrata into the modern age – complete with a heaping dose of clownish prop comedy and fourth wall breaks – too many layers fractures this otherwise fun show.
Originally written in 411 BC, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata is a farcical romp in which the women of Ancient Greece withhold sex from their men to end the war between Athens and Sparta. But this new adaptation from Jennifer Wise and Lois Anderson begins before all that.
This Lysistrata starts as the audience enters the theatre to see a frantic cast, costuming both the stage and one another. We learn from Jennifer Lines, who plays herself at this point, that the scheduled production of Hamlet has been cancelled as the cast has thrown their lot together to protest the redevelopment of Vanier Park. Quelemia Sparrow is then called upon to give the now ubiquitous indigenous land acknowledgement that feels sweetly insincere. It is enough to beg the question: what is real here?
And so, juggling sexism, indigenous land rights, ecology, history, ancient farce, and a combination of modern comedy & drama, Lysistrata begins.
At its core, Lysistrata is like a bag of good-idea marbles held up to admire. Unfortunately, we only have enough time for a cursory glance at each. This lack of depth makes the final scenes feel forced, unearned, and hollow.
The performances are superb, with Jennifer Lines and Colleen Wheeler as standouts, grounding the play in a believable push-pull leadership battle of personal versus social justice desire. The rest of the cast shine in individual moments carved out of the chaos, clearly enjoying the farce and silliness of the piece.
Barbara Clayden’s costumes are a feat of DIY engineering where, for example, a collection of spoons can receive thunderous applause. Drew Facey’s multipurpose set provides the blank slate for anything, and everything, to happen.
Lysistrata is polished and funny, a full-scale comedic romp through a mess of ideas. With that much joy and a talented cast at its core, you would think it could not fail. Unfortunately, with so many layers of themes and ideas, it also cannot succeed.
Ultimately, Lysistrata is a fluffy summer’s entertainment that will make you howl with laughter as you watch, and forget the next day.
Lysistrata by Aristophanes. Adapted by Jennifer Wise and Lois Anderson. Directed by Lois Anderson. A Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production on stage at the Douglas Campbell Theatre in Vancouver’s Vanier Park until September 13. Visit bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.