City Paper is not for tourists
Funny thing about Aristophanes’ Lysistrata: Any time you see it performed, you can be sure that a good 15 percent of the audience has no idea what they’re in for. Surprising, that—given how long the thing’s been around (2,500 years, give or take), to say nothing of its well-earned reputation as the Play That Launched a Thousand Gender-Studies Theses. Yet one of the play’s evergreen delights is its effect on the noobs: They gasp at every “fuck”; they giggle helplessly every time there’s a dick joke—which is, you know, often. I feel a bit sorry for the gaspers and gigglers who’ll take in Synetic’s clever, vigorous, and strikingly violent staging of the world’s oldest sex comedy, because whether they know it or not, they’ll have been thoroughly spoiled for any future, ah, mountings. Director/adapter Derek Goldman, fresh off Roundhouse’s well-received Eurydice, hasn’t futzed with the plot much: His Lysistrata (Deidra Lawan Starnes) still exhorts the women of her battle-scarred country to deny their men any womanly attention until they agree to end the war. (In other words, it’s still the most reductively heteronormative play, like, ever. Because really, we’re supposed to believe that it never ever occurs to the men to, you know, help a brother out? In Ancient Greece?) What’s new is all the stuff Goldman and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili have brought to the tale: They’ve loaded it up with Synetic’s singular brand of muscular movement and matched it to composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s urgently percussive music. Robbie Hayes’ multilevel scaffolding makes a series of set pieces possible—a well-crafted sequence in which the women defend their honor with household appliances being a particular standout—and allows the ensemble to propel themselves across the theatrical space in a bounding, parkour-like fashion. Goldman neatly dispenses with some of the play’s most well-known trappings and sight gags by trusting in the performers’ sheer physicality to carry the day (read: No wacky giant prop penises make an appearance, but you won’t miss ’em.). That there’s a deliberate broadness to the performances makes sense (see above, in re: dick jokes), though it does tend to wear thin. Over the years, the Synetic folks have proven themselves masters of physical expression, but past productions have gotten into trouble when loaded with ungainly—and often unnecessary—language. The same is true here, I’m afraid, even though Synetic’s outsourced the script duties to Aristophanes (by way of Goldman). Maybe it’s asking too much for any words to match the sheer bravura power of Synetic’s choreography and design. But whatever the case, this Lysistrata comes into its own whenever its players shut up and dance.