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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 30, 2002

'Lysistrata' updated with Spandex, grunge

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Adveriser Drama Critic

From left: Kalonike is played by Cindy Beth Davis, Myrrhine is played by Kristy Miller, Lysistrata played by Amy Joy Matsen and Lampito is played by Stephanie Kong in the Kennedy Theatre production.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Aristophanes' "Lysistrata" never was a play for prudes, and director Glenn Cannon keeps it that way in the current production at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.

Now nearly 2,500 years old, the original Greek comedy depicts a war between the genders as the women of Athens go on a sex strike to force their men to end the Peloponnesian War against Sparta. In the original, they barricade themselves inside the Acropolis. In the UH version, they take over a fraternity house.

Despite its short playing time of 75 minutes without intermission, the challenge in the production is to keep it fresh and funny once the audience gets the basic premise.

Costumes help. Designer Sandra Finney puts the title character in a dominatrix outfit and makes liberal use of negligees, mini-skirts and Spandex for the women. The men wear a mixture of university grunge ranging from athletic gear to military surplus. They sport phalluses made from novelty balloons.

Sexual innuendos help. The translation by Kenneth McLeish is true to the original intent of including suggestive imagery in as many lines as possible. He also liberally salts the dialogue with commonplace vulgarity and invective.

Exaggerated characterizations help. Amy Joy Matsen plays the title role like a Freudian woman with a mission to snatch the big cigar away from the Commissioner of Athens (Chris Doi). Her lieutenants include Cindy Beth Davis as a fashion-conscious valley girl, Stephanie Kong as a small-brained wrestler, and Kristy Miller as a personified Barbie doll.

Lysistrata seems to be on a double mission: to force an end to the fighting and to convince the men — and the initially reluctant women — that females have brains.

But "Lysistrata" is not "A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum."

Despite the vaudeville trappings, the absurd phalluses, and the occasional slapstick fight scene, the play is built on a series of debates, which fail to fully engage and hold our attention. All the talking lacks immediacy, and without character or plot development, our attention wanders.

A notable exception is the play's most popular scene, an encounter between Myrrhine (Miller) and her sex-starved husband Kinesias (Jonathan Egged). In this nicely crafted character set piece, Myrrhine's resolve is tested against Kinesias' mounting frustration. Comic tension builds as the pair edge closer and closer to "the act." It's a fine bit of staging and well executed by Miller and Egged.

The play's happy ending is celebrated with a traditional revel of music and dance, translated for this production into blaring rock and contemporary choreography. But the party lacks spontaneity or real feeling, suggesting there are limits to fluffing up an ancient classic before it collapses from the effort.