nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 4, 2011
The new production of Lysistrata at La MaMa E.T.C. is adapted (from the play by Aristophanes), directed, and designed by Theodora Skipitares. Though there are some interesting interludes that link this ancient comedy, which is about a sex strike organized by the women of Greece to keep their men from going to war, with serious contemporary political/social actions, and though there is a broad diversity of theatrical ideas at play in the presentation, I was nevertheless disappointed in the piece. I never understood why this particular set of devices had been chosen to tell this story, or finally what I was intended to take away from it.
Skipitares is known for a style of puppet theatre blending lifesize puppets with human actors who voice the characters and manipulate their puppets' arms, legs, and bodies. The main women characters of Lysistrata are portrayed by beautiful though surprisingly expressionless puppets, acted/manipulated by Antonevia Ocho-Coultes (Lysistrata), Raquel Cion (Calonice), Minna Taylor (Myrrhine), and Rebecca Silverman (Lampita and Lampito). Their male counterparts—the Magistrate, Cinesias, and the Ambassador—are all played by Daniel Irizarry, working dwarf-sized puppets that are comical and perhaps even a bit derisive. The choruses (of old ladies and old men) are played by four actors apiece, each of whom is managing three different puppets (attached at their sides by a kind of belt). The male chorus members all have long phalluses hanging between their legs, beneath their robes; the old women have pendulous, withered breasts—nods, evidently, to classical Greek and Roman styles of broad, vulgar comedy. I was surprised that more comic use wasn't put to these features, especially in the context of a puppet theater presentation. Indeed, except for the puppets filling the stage with more characters than live actors, I didn't feel that the use of puppets added anything new or interesting to this oft-performed tale. (The puppets are designed by Skipitares, Jane Catherine Shaw, and Cecilia Schiller).
Two of the media elements incorporated in the production bring much to the proceedings. Sxip Shirey's eclectic score, performed live by Shirey himself on a dazzling array of instruments and electronica, is lively and always interesting, punctuating moments throughout the play in surprising ways and adding a keen sense of fun to the show. Documentary video footage, narrated by Ruth Maleczech, Larry Pine, and John Findlay, is inserted between scenes, bringing the play's sex strike idea up to the present and into real life by showing us modern-day equivalents that have occurred in England, Mexico, Kenya, and other places. The examples cited don't appear to have been wildly successful, however; and while the linkage is clear between these pre-recorded segments and the live action on stage, no real effort to integrate one with the other seems to have been made.
The coarseness of Aristophanes's broad original is magnified in Skipitares's production, perhaps unnecessarily: one of the key songs has this chorus:
This cunt is in an affair with the state
And I will tell you why
'Cause We cause men to be born
You cause them to die.
There is also some gratuitous female nudity; I wondered, when it occurred, why a puppet wasn't used instead. Skipitares seems bent on shocking her audience here. But it was never clear to me what all of this was finally supposed to make me understand or do.