The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in association with the Adams House Pool Theatre Company of Harvard University present:
directed by Art Shettle
with Choreography by Claire Mallardi.
At the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum,
March 17th and 18th, 1994.
Produced for the Museum
by Marianne McDermott.
Mask design by Eric Bornstein,
lighting design by Albert
sound design by Maribeth Back and David Waxman.
Reviewed by Patrick Rourke
745 Commonwealth Ave.
It seems strange to think of the Lysistrata as high art. Somehow, an audience in suit-and-tie and evening dresses leering over drawings of large phalloi and laughing nervously at mild obscenities just doesn't fit Aristophanes' decor. But at a recent performance of the Lysistrata, I saw how well a group of student performers and professional stage-technicians could bring together high art and low humor for a sold out museum audience.
The performance was held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the private museum located in the former home of Mrs. Gardner and featuring her stunning private collection, minus Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee and the other paintings stolen in the spectacular 1991 theft. Like all musical and theatrical performances at the Gardner, Lysistrata was held in the second- floor hall, where the audience sits on movable chairs amidst glass cases of sketches and illuminated manuscripts, tapestries and old books. There was a small raised stage, with two or three step- levels, a bare altar at the front, and scatterings of faux columns and a cloth backdrop at the rear.
The translation used was Nicholas Rudall's in the Elephant Plays for Performance series; Rudall is an editor of the series and translator of several plays of Ibsen. Fortunately (to my taste), the director (Art Shettle) did not allow himself to be led by the nose; many of Rudall's suggestions were dealt with gingerly or ignored.
The most important of these changes are in the composition of the chorus and in the complexity of the music and choreography. The chorus is made up of young men and younger women. This was not merely dictated by the ages of the performers; for example, the actress playing Lysistrata herself (Winsome Brown) was an undergraduate at Harvard, but with her makeup and her fine performance, appeared to be in her thirties, as did the actor playing the Commissioner (Ian Lithgow) (of course, they may very well have been 'non-traditional students' and my eyesight not good enough to distinguish makeup from reality at a distance of fifteen rows, but that would illustrate my point equally well). Rather this seems to have been a deliberate decision on the part of the directors to use younger actors in the choruses.
There was a purpose to this. The choruses were complex, involved, athletic, and utterly charming: the best was the parados (as is only fitting), in which smooth, featureless, handled Balinese masks (designed by Eric Bornstein) were manipulated as mask, sword, and even as a stand-in for the Attic phalloi; the moves were fluid and expressed an eroticism denied, the three female choreutai manipulating the three males with their moves by approaching and backing away, circling, and thus representing the women's frustration of the men, in both the sexual and political senses. The music (which was not original) was very carefully matched to the choreography, and the sparse costuming of the women choreutai set off by the ancient-military costuming of the males.
The main problem was that the director didn't go all the way: lines like 'I'll break your neck, you aging Gramps' simply don't fit when the man in question is in his twenties or early thirties. The director shouldn't have spared the text and changed the cast. But, then again, we can't all be perfect.
In general the acting ran from competent to talented. Best were Brown's Lysistrata, played as a sophisticate in a world of foolish young women, Lithgow's conservative crank of a Commissioner, and David L. McMahon's almost beer-guzzling Kinesias (whose friends, Rudall says, call him Humper, but whom I'd have called Buck). Myrrhine (Carolyn Forno) and Calonike (Esme Howard) were competently acted, as was Lampito (Deidre Sullivan), but for the one or two slips of her southern accent. All in all, first-rate performances for students.
Bornstein's masks and Claire Mallardi's choreography, which made the show, deserve special recongition; Pieter Burgess' costumes were all well-done if not shockingly original, while the minimalist set, which accomodated the blocking, the choreography, and the entrances and exits well, was unpretentious if uninspired. All in all, a very encouraging performance by a number of very talented students. One hopes the Gardner will present more such shows in the future.
Cast and Crew not mentioned in review:
Chorus: Stephanie Jordan, Jennifer Du Brul, Ariane Anthony, Eric Bornstein, Patrick Casky,Eric Little. Others: David McMahon, Ethan Golden, Hilliard Goldfarb, Ethan Golden. Stage Manager: Toni Galasso.
Patrick Rourke is planning to return to school full time for graduate work in English.