Aristophanes' Clouds and Lysistrata
Translated by Greg Robic and Company
Directed by Greg Robic
March 10-12, 1994
St. Michael's Theatre, Alumni Hall
University of St. Michael's College
University of Toronto
Reviewed by Kathy Simonsen
Department of Classics
16 Hart House Circle
University of Toronto
Ontario, M5S 1A1,
This is not a review for those who are interested in lighting and directing. People who know about these things may mutter that the former was uninspired and the latter weak in places. But neither perceived fault impaired my enjoyment of the plays. This is a review for those who enjoy hearing about undergraduates enthusiastically involving themselves in Classical dramas, and who love going to the theatre, laughing themselves sick and then embarrassing themselves by giggling, without apparent cause, all the way home on the streetcar.
This past March Mr. Greg Robic, an undergraduate at this university, sought to prove that the success he and his friends enjoyed last season was no accident. A sold-out house on opening night testified to the happy memories of last year's audience. As the lights dimmed on this double-bill the anticipation in the hall was almost like that of children on Christmas morning.
The Lysistrata is a revival of last year's production with the addition of a few more songs. On the whole it is too good a show to let wither away unrepeated. The translation sticks fairly close to the original, allowing for a certain amount of modernizing such as the women vowing to dial '911' if their desperate husbands try to force the issue on them.
The Clouds is this year's effort, and is, I think, a year better than the Lysistrata. It seemed a tighter production, and the absence of the agon was no loss. The sense that the final scene, when Strepsiades fires the school, is merely tacked on, is a fault of the play itself and not of this version. The addition of a second chorus of Socrates' students worked nicely and provided some fine comic touches and a very good song. The portrayal of Socrates as a combination of arrogant, self-worshipping professor and psychopath was just delightful as was the interplay between Socrates and the chief Cloud who was responsible for Strepsiades' testing.
What makes anything involving Greg Robic worth the price of admission, however, is his ability to write the most outrageous and wonderfully insane lyrics to some of the most famous tunes from Broadway, Gilbert and Sullivan, and opera. He proved his skill last year in the Lysistrata with such hits as 'Tragedy' (to the music of 'Tradition' from Fiddler on the Roof) and 'The Freudian and the Classicist Should be Friends'. Both are impossible to forget and deserve (O Cruel Fate!) to be recommended reading in intro. civ. courses. This year's crop from the Clouds is no less fantastic. Socrates' introduction song, to the music of the policemen's song from G. and S.'s Pirates of Penzance, is probably better than the original, at least for a crowd which can appreciate the lyrics. What Strepsiades does to the Queen of the Night's aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute is perfectly criminal. If you ever hear this version, Mozart's lyrics will never sound serious again.
This new production of the Clouds is true to Aristophanes' original intent in a most unexpected fashion. Little did the audience suspect that it was still possible for contemporary (and Classical!) scholarship to become a subject for song and dance. Nevertheless 'No Cock Fights Today', Socrates and the chorus' attempt to expatiate on the theme of the Athenian reaction to encounters between fellow citizens, seemed an excellent summary of Eric Csapo's recent series of articles in Phoenix 47 (1993).
Both productions are characterized by Robic's lyrical insanity, which seems so natural on stage that one is left wondering why someone has not written these songs before. The whole show felt as is it were full of energetic goodwill. The actors were fully alive and gave the appearance of being happy to be there, and they managed on the whole, I think, to communicate that feeling to the audience. Which is why any production faults ought to be forgiven. There is always a fear that the excessive organization of happy amateurs will destroy the peculiar charms of the unprofessional production.
One can only hope that Greg Robic's professors have the good sense to fail him and thus keep him a perpetual undergraduate, perpetually producing wonderful musicals for grateful audiences.
Kathy Simonsen is a graduate student in the Department of Classics at the University of Toronto.