Friday, November 1, 2002

Sex, war and politics are at their funniest in "Lysistrata," a contemporary and risque production about women finding a way to take charge in a world where women call the shots. From left are Cindy Beth Davis, Amy Matsen and Chris Doi.

Play about sexual politics
is funny but lacks balance

By John Berger

The ancient Greeks are remembered for an appreciation of balance, form and symmetry. What would they make of Kennedy Theatre's production of "Lysistrata," in which those key elements are missing?

Director Glenn Cannon and core cast actors get the bawdy physical comedy right, and contemporary expletives and single-entendre jokes do no harm to Aristophanes' timeless parable of sexual conflict. The problem is that the women are so relentlessly strident and shrewish, and the men so ineffectual and inept, that this sexual battle is at most pro forma. There's no need for the women to withhold sexual favors from the men when it's clear they can simply overpower them.

The men are so incompetent it is impossible to picture them as virile warriors destined to succumb to the demands of their libidos when women refuse to accommodate them. These guys look too anemic to even have libidos.

The fact that the male costumes include a long, oh-so-vulnerable balloon as a phallus affirms Cannon's thoughts on the delicate nature of their masculinity. The balloons were the most successful sight gag on opening night. Laughs aside, the men never seem like worthy adversaries for Lysistrata (Amy Joy Matsen) and her two main allies -- Myrrhine (Kristy Miller) and Kalonike (Cindy Beth Davis) -- in trying to banish war from Greece. As it turns out, a day or two without sex reduces the men to quivering wrecks and the war is over.

Matsen, Davis and Miller carry the show and share credit for most of the best comic action. The three get strong support from Chris Doi and Jonathan Egged. Doi plays Athens' hapless but sincere commissioner, who explains to Lysistrata and the female protesters who have taken over the Acropolis that women don't have what it takes to hold office and set policy. Lysistratra responds by stripping off her bright orange miniskirt and forcing him to wear it for a while.

Miller plays Myrrhine as ditsy Reese Witherspoon-lite in a wig that makes her look like a young Connie Stevens. Miller and Egged brought down the house with their comic interplay as Myrrhine appeared ready to break the sexual embargo to accommodate her husband, the warrior with the biggest balloon. The scene belonged to Egged but Miller was essential in its success.

Davis quickly establishes Kalonike as Kelly Bundy-lite. Stephanie Kong, wearing a thong over leotards, plays Lampito as a mannish body builder in a characterization that perhaps reflects the old Athenian opinion of Spartan women. Danielle Louie, looking uncomfortable as Reconciliation, is miscast.

The lack of audience response to subtler humor may reflect the lack of balance in the struggle between the men and women -- or perhaps the fact that the males in the audience were mesmerized by the "stage presence" of the women in low-cut push-up bras.

Dance consultant Christine Berwin's dance numbers do little to improve the experience, but Joseph Dodd's elaborate set deserves careful inspection. Look for the rubber ducky.

"Lysistrata": Repeats 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, and 2 p.m. Sunday at Kennedy Theatre. Tickets $12; $10 for seniors, military, and UH faculty; $8 non-UH students; $3 UH students. Call 956-7655.

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